The Tribal Historic Preservation Office’s Research Assistant, David Brownell, appears as a guest blogger in this segment. Below he talks about the amazing discovery of a fossilized mammoth tooth, along with a number of other large animal remains on the Big Cypress Reservation:
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Willard Steele, who made the initial discovery when he spotted the tooth protruding from spoil piles left over from recent canal dredging, estimates the bones date back around 10,000 years to the Pleistocene Era. During this time, Florida had a much drier climate, and due to lower sea levels, was actually much larger in terms of land mass than it is today, almost twice its current size. Instead of being covered in rivers, lakes, and wetlands like the Everglades, the dry climate produced a savannah covered by hardy grasses and scattered oaks, which would have looked very similar to the African savannah of today.
Over these vast savannahs roamed mega-fauna like the mammoth, Giant Sloth, camel, American Bison, and mastodon, another relative of the elephant that was much smaller in size. North America was inhabited by a number of mammoth species, ranging from the Imperial Mammoth, the second largest known species which stood 16 feet tall at the shoulder, to the Columbian and Jefferson Mammoths, which are argued to be the same species and were slightly smaller. Though they were herbivores, consuming an estimated 700 pounds of plant material each day to maintain their massive size, they also possessed impressive tusks to deter would-be predators. In fact, though their tusks averaged around 6.5 feet, one specimen uncovered in Texas had tusks reaching 16 feet long. The mastodons were another elephant-related family found here, but were much smaller than their mammoth cousins. Due to the warmer climate, these mammoths lacked the woolly coat of their cousins in Europe and Asia, and would have had skin similar to modern African Elephants, but with small patches of hair on their shoulders and head.
These herbivores were stalked by predators like the Dire Wolf, Saber-toothed Cat, American Lion (similar to its African counterpart but larger), and the short-faced bear, which stood up to 13 feet tall and weighed up to 1,200 pounds. Though there is no evidence that this particular mammoth was killed by humans, they did interact, and there have been multiple archaeological finds including actual kill sites that prove they were hunting mammoth in Florida. Mammoths died out between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago, with the last hold outs in northern Alaska and Russia becoming extinct between 4,000 to 2,000 years ago; though the cause of extinction is unknown, it is generally thought that a combination of shifts in global climate along with increased hunting pressure from humans led to their demise.