To the untrained eye, it might have looked like a giant wooden log. In fact, scientists had spotted something unusual off the coast of California two years ago: a mammoth tusk 3 feet (1 meter) long.
A research team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute discovered the tusk in 2019 while exploring an undersea mountain about 3,000 meters below the ocean’s surface.
Although other mammoth fossils have already been collected from the ocean, it is rare for such objects to nestle along the seabed, said Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, in a report. Press release.
Scientists eventually determined that the tusk belonged to a young female Colombian mammoth, possibly the one who lived during the Lower Paleolithic era, which stretched from 2.7 million to 200,000 years ago. Researchers are still working to determine the creature’s exact age, as well as more details about its life, including its diet and how often it spawns.
“It’s an ‘Indiana Jones’ moment mixed with ‘Jurassic Park'”, Katie Moon, postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Recount The New York Times.
The discovery could ultimately signal the presence of other ancient animal fossils hidden in the deep sea.
Scientists smashed piece of mammoth tusk two years ago
Scientists at Monterey Bay had no plans to encounter a mammoth tusk in 2019. At the time, the research team was scouring the ocean in remote-controlled vehicles in search of deep-sea species.
“You start to ‘expect the unexpected’ when exploring the seabed, but I’m still amazed that we came across a mammoth’s ancient tusk,” said Steven Haddock, senior scientist at Monterey. Bay Aquarium Research Institute, in the Press release.
On a hunch, the scientists decided to retrieve the tusk from the ocean floor, but the tip broke and they were unable to collect the full specimen. The team then revisited the site in July to retrieve the rest of the artifact. This time, they attached soft materials like sponges to the rc vehicle, then gently lifted the tusk using the vehicle’s robotic arms.
Full defense gave scientists a much larger sample of mammoth DNA, which they used to determine its species.
Scientists believe the Colombian mammoth was one of the largest creatures of its kind – likely the result of a cross between a woolly mammoth and another species of mammoth. It probably used its tusks for protection and food when it roamed North America up to 10,000 years ago.
The cool, high pressure deep sea environment is ideal for preserving fossils
Scientists are now analyzing defense radioisotopes, or naturally decaying atoms, to determine how long the mammoth has lived. Since scientists know the rate at which isotopes like uranium and thorium decay, they can determine the age of the tusk based on how much of those isotopes are still present in the artifact.
So far, this technique suggests that the mammoth tusk is well over 100,000 years old.
Scientists believe that the ocean is responsible for keeping the artifact in such a pristine state.
High seas temperatures are just above freezing – around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit), on average. This frigid climate slows down the rate of decomposition of fossils, just as putting food in the freezer keeps it from spoiling too soon.
Fossils also have a better chance of surviving in the high pressure environment of the deep sea – submarine pressure in the deepest ocean trenches is 1,100 times more than it is on the surface of the water.
“If the tusk had been found on earth, deciphering its history wouldn’t be so simple,” said Terrence Blackburn, associate professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, in the United States. Press release.
This article was originally published by Business intern.
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