Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:54 PM on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More mammoth remains surface

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Tim Klingbeil and historian Janet Klein, both of Homer, examine a woolly mammoth molar found in the area by Klingbeil's brother, Jack, in the late 1950s. The molar is on display at Alaska Wild Berry Products.

When local historian Janet Klein recently shared the results of radiocarbon dating of two woolly mammoth remains, her announcement offered clues in the mystery of woolly mammoths' existence on the Kenai Peninsula. Klein's hope was that information would lead to the discovery of more remains and help answer once and for all that these massive mammals did, in fact, inhabit this part of Alaska.

Klein's plan worked. While an entire skeleton hasn't been found, another piece of the puzzle has come to light.

After reading the Homer News' March 3 story, "Woolly mammoth evidence increases," Tim Klingbeil of Homer contacted his brother, Jack, in Anchorage. Tim wanted his brother's permission to tell Klein about something Jack found near Bluff Point in the late 1950s.

"No problem" was Jack's response.

In either 1958 or 1959, when Jack was about 13 years old, he was walking on the beach in the Bluff Point area and spotted something tangled in kelp that looked "pretty interesting to me." Interested in paleontology and enrolled in an evening geology class at the time, Jack's first impression was he'd found a mastadon tooth that had possibly washed ashore.

Even more interesting to the teenager was what he could make by selling his find. Jack took it to Hazel Heath, owner of Alaska Wild Berry Products at the time.

"I asked her how much she'd give me for it and she said $10. That sounded like a lot of money," said Jack, admitting since then he's suffered seller's remorse. "I've always, always regretted it, but have gone back up there as many times as I could to find another one and never have."

Tim was about 4 years old at the time and didn't have an opportunity to see the object his brother found before the family moved to Anchorage in 1965. When Tim moved back to the area seven years ago, he paid a visit to the Wild Berry museum. Sure enough, there was his brother's find, sitting in a glass showcase. The only difference was that it had dried over the years and split into several pieces.

After Jack read the Homer News story, the pieces came together, so to speak.

"This story demonstrates the value of museums, even small private ones such as Alaska Wild Berry Products," said Klein. "For more than 50 years, the museum has exhibited the molar, an interesting object in an exhibit case full of other interesting objects. With one phone call the story moved the molar from just an interesting object to one of scientific interest. ... (The Klingbeils') story, the molar itself and current research came together at Wild Berry Products, and the possibility of woolly mammoths living on the Kenai Peninsula took another step forward."

There is a marked difference between this molar and one found by the late Harold Shafer near Anchor River in 1989. The ridges on the one found by Shafer have been worn almost smooth. Similarly, the roots have been worn away. The one found by Klingbeil is considerably less waterworn.

Radiocarbon dating of a tusk found by Mike Lettis of Anchor Point indicates its age at more than 27,000 years before the present time. An astragalus, anklebone, found by Klein near Bishop's Beach exceeds the limits of radiocarbon dating, which means its age is more than 48,500 years. Whether or not the molar will be radiocarbon dated is yet to be decided.

The importance of uncovering more remains is a given, however.

"These articles might bring something else out of the woodwork," said Tim. "Let's find some more mammoth teeth and prove they were around here."

Jack takes an even more positive approach.

"There are fossils out there. It's just that we haven't found them yet," he said.

After viewing the molar at Alaska Wild Berry Products last week, Tim pointed to another object, identifying it as one his family donated.

"Another story waiting to be told," said Klein.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.