It’s been about 100,000 years since the last of the woolly mammoths made their mark in North America, but researchers recently spotted one of the remnants of these extinct beasts. Along the shoreline of Alaska’s Koyukuk River, a group of professors from the University of Virginia spotted a massive tusk sticking out of the riverbank.
The group was on a mission to measure the impact of climate change as part of the university’s Sanctuary Lab project, which measures how the warming planet affects sanctuary sites. But they were greeted by a marker of an entirely different era of the planet’s history instead. Adrienne Ghaly, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia who was on the trip, managed to capture a picture of the mammoth tusk and posted it on Twitter. “You can almost touch the Pleistocene,” she said, referencing the geologic period when woolly mammoths thrived.
According to Ghaly, the tusk has been exposed for the past year or two — the result of the ongoing erosion of the land around the river bank. Researchers at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks have been monitoring the tusk as it continues to protrude from the land, and have tied ropes to it that will catch it before it falls into the river.
According to NPR, the area that was being explored by Ghaly and her fellow researchers was once a hotbed for woolly mammoths and regularly produces ice age mammal remains, including tusks. But the size and level of preservation of this one make it particularly impressive. It’s been a long while since the woolly mammoth walked on this planet, pushed out by a changing ecosystem that became inhospitable to its existence. There’s an irony that climate change revealed this remnant of the species that is long gone, as that is the very force that might lead to the same outcome for us if we aren’t careful.