Back in a time roughly 65,000 years ago, there were once far-ranging fields of grass between the Bosque and Brazos river and not the forests of oaks mixed in with mesquites and junipers that you see today. Resembling what you know as the African savanna, at that time, a herd of female Columbian mammoths brought their babies through those fields during an intense rainstorm. Paleontologists believe that while they were traversing the fields, the rain swelled either one or both of the rivers, resulting in catastrophic floods and mudslides, sweeping the mammoths away and burying them in a quagmire of clay in what is now known as north Waco.
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Waco Mammoth National Monument: You Won’t Believe Your Eyes
Fast forward to 1978, when Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin were searching for arrowheads and fossils close to the Bosque River. The two men came across a large bone and took it to the Strecker Museum at Baylor University for analysis. This was the original discovery of the mammoth deposit, leading to the development of a partnership for its excavation and development. And in 2015, almost 40 years later, the site was named a National Monument by President Barack Obama.
As a National Monument, the site has added four park rangers to work with Waco city staff to run the facility and offer guided tours, which are the only way for the public to see the excavation site. Since its discovery, museum staff, students, and volunteers have spent many thousands of preservation hours on the fossils. Remains that were excavated through 1990 are presently on display at Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex, the majority of which remain in their original position within the bone bed. In recent years, these specimens have been protected by a climate-controlled dig shelter which allowed for both continued scientific study as well as public viewing.