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Current Research

The Mammoth Site is a research institution that is funded by tourism, memberships, donations, and grants from corporate and family foundations. 

The research that disseminates from The Mammoth Site can be viewed in many ways as a bull’s eye target. 

  • The inner-most circle is research coming directly from The Mammoth Site Bonebed (the sinkhole that visitors can tour), basically its fauna recovered from the sinkhole sediments…mammoths, prairie dogs, mollusks, camel, giant short-faced bear…... 
  • The next circle encompasses the Black Hills and a fringe around them. This includes all the work we are doing with local caves such as the excavation in partnership with Wind Cave National Park at Persistence Cave.  We are also prospecting for Ice Age faunas from other areas in the Black Hills, where we are finding bison remains. Land administered by local ranchers and other agencies are beginning to show great promise for Ice Age vertebrate fossils.
  • This next bull’s eye circle is much larger and basically encompasses much of North America.  Our current research in this area is less abundant but includes the work and manuscript writing we are doing on fossils recovered from: caves in the western Grand Canyon, sinkholes on various islands of The Bahamas, shelters and alluvial deposits on the Northern Channel Islands, caves in the Great Basin of Nevada, shelters and alluvial deposits in Sonora (Mexico) and Texas. 
  • The outer-most circle is basically global approach where some of our research includes fossils from caves in Western Australia and southern-most China.

Most of the hands-on research conducted at The Mammoth Site includes proboscideans (an obvious topic for us!), predominantly small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, but we do have a new emphasis being placed on understanding the history of bison.  Justin Wilkins is researching the micro-fauna from the Channel Islands, which takes him into the realm of snakes, lizards, frogs, and salamanders.  Olga Potapova is working on bison, proboscideans, and some birds. Dr. Jim Mead centers most of his research on lizards, snakes, and dung remains (usually partnership with other researchers around the world and their fossil localities).   Take a look at the list of publications – this will let you know where much of Dr. Mead’s research time goes to.

The Research Lab here at The Mammoth Site incorporates a modern comparative skeleton collection of mammals, lizards, snakes, frogs, and salamanders.  The Site also has another, most-unusual comparative collection – dung.  Weird as it may seem, dry caves and permafrost sites (Alaska and Siberia) typically preserve dung.  The dung from fossil sites helps in the understanding of past faunal members, their diet, and local biome.  Dr. Mead started making this collection with the help of Paul S. Martin in 1974.

“The Mammoth Site is not just a window into the Past—it’s as close to being a true time machine as you’ll find, with some of the best ice-age fossils on the planet on permanent display.”

Dr. Ross MacPhee
American Museum of Natural History