We don’t expect to see a massive mammoth tusk in the wild. They belong in museums! But University of Virginia researcher Adrienne Ghaly shows that if you’re in Alaska, you might just see one on the side of a river bank. Ghaly snapped and tweeted a picture of a woolly mammoth tusk protruding from an embankment on the Koyukuk River near Coldfoot, Alaska. The ivory is buried under layers of rock and is now being held up with ropes to prevent it from falling into the river as its base continues to deteriorate.
The uniqueness of seeing a giant fossil on an otherwise ordinary riverbank has captured the imagination of the internet; Ghlay’s tweet has introduced people to the fact that Alaska is rich with woolly mammoth tusks and remains. The creature is believed to have gone extinct about 4,000 years ago, and Alaska designated it as the state fossil in 1986, signifying its relative ubiquity.
Mammoth tusks can tell us a lot about the creature's life. They are used like tree rings and are split down the middle to analyze the chemical isotopes that are within. The isotopes vary by region and can show how far, for instance, a mammoth walked—as was the case of a discovery of a 17,000-year-old mammoth. It walked enough to circle the Earth twice.
It’s not rare to find mammoth tusks while in Alaska, but it’s still a special find. And if you’re not from the state or don’t visit often, coming upon one can seem like striking gold.
The internet was captivated by a photo of a woolly mammoth tusk protruding from an Alaskan riverbank.
— Adrienne Ghaly (@avghaly) June 6, 2022
Researcher (and the tusk photographer) Adrienne Ghaly offered more context about the tusk.
Apparently the mammoth tusk was exposed in the last year or two. UAF is monitoring it and tied ropes to it to prevent it from falling in the river as erosion continues but I don’t know all the details.
— Adrienne Ghaly (@avghaly) June 7, 2022