What's that tusk doing in my backyard?

Many significant scientific discoveries are made entirely by accident. Rarely, however, does a construction crew uncover a twelve-foot tall mammoth in what is going to become someone's backyard. That is exactly what happened last week in Moorpark, California (30 miles outside of LA). What scientists found, when they were called in, were the incredibly well preserved remains of undetermined specimen of mammoth believed to be 400,000-1.4 million years old. Scientists think that the specimen is 50-70% complete.

Finding out the age of any fossil can be difficult, but thankfully there are several ways to do this. Paleontologist Mark Roeder notes that the Moorpark mammoth is far too old to be 'carbon' dated. Carbon-14 dating (commonly referred to as simply "carbon dating") is frequently used by archaeologists and paleontologists to determine the age of specimens up to approximately 50,000 years old. In order to date the Moorpark mammoth, scientists will probably turn to other methods of dating (possibly Potassium-Argon dating). Often, determining the age of surrounding rock formations or looking at other nearby fossils can help scientists in determining the age of the fossil in question.

Accidental discoveries like this are more common than you probably think. Farmers in the Midwestern United States regularly find Native American archaeological material in their fields, and scientists have asked highway construction crews to cease their work to allow them to unearth an accidental discovery. So next time your in your backyard, watch out for the next major scientific discovery. The Science Museum might even be able to help you identify your find.

Have you found anything interesting in your back yard?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

This is cool and so am i's picture
This is cool and so am i says:

Its interesting but is it true I wonder

posted on Mon, 04/11/2005 - 9:53am
bryan kennedy's picture

It may seem fantastic but yes it is true. Many credible news sources have reported on this story. It's always good to operate with a little skepticism though.
bryan kennedy
Science Buzz Site Admin

posted on Mon, 04/11/2005 - 11:05am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

What exactly are you wondering about?

If you're wondering if the report of the mammoth find is true, you can see some of the news coverage here, here, and here. Click on the red text to go to the linked sites.

If you're wondering about the Science Museum's object identification program, click on the red text in the original post.

posted on Mon, 04/11/2005 - 11:12am

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