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Couple on a hike discover huge mammoth bone uncovered by storm

Woolly mammoths are the state fossil of Alaska, which was part of their range during the last Ice Age

Ethan Freedman
Climate Reporter, New York
Wednesday 12 October 2022 19:34 BST
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Alaska couple find ‘massive’ mammoth bone on hike

Western Alaska got hit with a major storm last month, as strong winds, driving rain and a powerful storm surge left coastal communities with heavy damage. The storm also revealed a prehistoric relic from the far north’s long-forgotten past.

A couple from a small community outside Nome were on a hike after the storm when they discovered a gigantic mammoth bone, the remains of a gigantic animal from thousands of years ago.

“We were walking maybe about 75 yards apart and she tells me she found a bone,” Joseph Nassuk, the husband, told KTUU News in Alaska.

“And I asked her if it was whole, and she said ‘Yeah’, so I look over it and it was over half her height, and I got all excited.”

After finding the bone, the couple hauled it back to their home in Elim, a small community of around 300 people about 100 miles (161 kilometres) outside of Nome.

The bone was around the same height as one of their sons, KTUU reports.

“As I was lifting it up out of the mud, I thought to myself ‘It’s kind of heavy’,” Andrea Nassuk, the wife, told the channel.

Mammoths, shaggy relatives of modern-day elephants, have been extinct for at least 4,000 or so years. But during the last Ice Age and beyond, the animals used to range across Europe and the northern regions of Asia and North America.

Joseph and Andrea Nassuk of Elim, Alaska with the mammoth bone they found on a walk (KTUU)

Alaska’s official state fossil is the woolly mammoth.

This bone wasn’t the only trace of the prehistoric beasts the couple found after the storm last month — they also found a gigantic, seven-foot (2.1-metre) blue-tinged mammoth tusk, KTUU reports. The tusk’s blue colour comes from deposits of the mineral vivianite, which can accrete on fossils.

Mr Nassuk told the station he hopes to sell the tusk and believes he can get thousands of dollars for it — which the couple says they’ll use to build a house for themselves and their children.

The storm that hit Alaska last month was the remnants of Typhoon Merbok, a Category 1 storm that formed in the Pacific Ocean and head north towards Russia and Alaska.

At one point, ocean levels off the coast of Nome were at least 10 ft (three metres) higher than the low tide line — the highest levels since the mid-1970s, according to a tweet from Rick Thoman, a climate scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The state has felt the impact of Pacific typhoons in years past, but this risk may be growing as the climate crisis grows. On its way to Alaska, the storm passed over much warmer water than normal, reports the Alaska Beacon, which could have added a lot more moisture into the storm system before it hit land.

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