The end zone of a college football field is probably the last place one would think to excavate ancient animal bones. But that’s exactly what happened this week at Oregon State University.
A construction crew unearthed the femur bone of a wooly mammoth while renovating Reser Stadium at OSU Monday. The bone was discovered ten feet below the north end zone, the university reported.
After digging deeper, the crew found bones from several more extinct creatures, including bison and some type of camel or horse.
“There are quite a few bones, and dozens of pieces,” an associate professor of anthropology, Loren Davis said in a statement. Davis was called to the site after the mammoth bone was first discovered. "Some of the bones are not in very good shape, but some are actually quite well preserved."
Additional testing will be required to determine the bones’ exact age. Davis said that there doesn’t seem to be any sign of human bones or artifacts at the site.
Though it’s safe to say that the end zone excavation was unprecedented, David explained that it is not unusual to find such artifacts in the Willamette Valley. The OSU stadium is located on a plot in an area that she said could once have been a bog or marsh.
“Animals who were sick would often go to a body of water and die there, so it’s not unusual to find a group of bones like this,” Davis said. “We had all of these types of animals in the Willamette Valley back then.”
Crews have been digging up a section of the north end zone as part of a project to expand and renovate the Valley. The project began after the fall football season and is expected to be completed by the start of the 2016 home season.
A worker digging in the area made the initial discovery of the large femur bone and immediately stopped work in the area, said Tim Sissel, senior project manager for Hunt/Fortis, a joint venture, the general contractor on the project.
After workers made the ancient discovery Monday, officials notified OSU officials, who called on Davis and other experts to examine the bones and the site. Crews have since moved to other parts of the construction project while Davis and others examine the findings further. According to Sissel, the delay so far has been minimal so far.
Davis noted that the animals do not appear to have been killed.
Davis plans to soak the discovered bones in water to prevent further deterioration and send some out for carbon dating to determine more about their age, according to the university. He and his students will also begin the project of excavating a large pile of dirt taken from the site, where more bones are likely to be buried.
“It’ll be a great learning experience for them, to learn how to identify extinct animal bones,” Davis said. “It’s really an amazing find.”