Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:41 PM on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Evidence points to woolly mammoths on peninsula

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

A lunchtime crowd of 60 filled the seminar room at Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center to standing-room capacity April 14, eager to hear historian and author Janet Klein of Homer and geologist and author Dick Reger of Soldotna say the words everyone wanted to hear — woolly mammoths did tromp through our back yards a long time ago.

"I'm just going to say it. Woolly mammoths lived on the Kenai Peninsula," said Klein.

Her certainty came from the increasing number of remains being found and reported in recent months. At a table in the front of the room were some of the nine elements that have been found in an area stretching from Homer to Clam Gulch.

Reger agreed.

"Although I was an initial skeptic, I think the resource, and I call the whole collection of remains a resource, has been proven," Reger told the Homer News. "Now we just need to figure out when they were here and the conditions they existed in and get some solid, in-place evidence. That would be the smoking gun."

Specifically, Reger said, a bone found in place in sediment would provide a stratigraphic context and allow for the collection of pollen samples to determine what vegetation existed at the time the animals were in the neighborhood.

"We could date not just the bones, but other dateable things like wood or charcoal or whatever," said Reger. "It would give us a further fix on the age of them."

Results from radiocarbon dating done at the University of California Irvine date a tusk fragment found between Homer and Anchor Point to about 27,000 years ago. An astragalus, or ankle bone, found closer to Homer proved older than the process could date, meaning the bone's age exceeded 48,500 years.

In Reger's presentation, he pointed to periods of time and a 510-square-mile area of the peninsula he believed capable of supporting the large creatures. He also showed possible routes the animals took to the Kenai.

Attendance at the April 14 presentation was significant to Reger.

"There were so many with a high interest in learning, people curious, wanting to learn as much as they could and ask lots of good questions," he said. "The discussion was excellent."

In March, after making public the results of the radiocarbon dating, Klein encouraged individuals who had found remains to contact her. At that time, less than a half dozen elements were known. Since then, Klein has received word of additional pieces found on the Kenai Peninsula and heard of others that, while not identified specifically with the peninsula, offer additional information about the presence of woolly mammoths in Alaska.

When Vicki McBride of Everett, Wash., heard of Klein's request, she provided photos of what appear to be a mammoth tusk and molar given to her father, the late John Stiles, and passed to McBride in 1949. As an employee of the American Can Company, Stiles serviced the company's equipment in fish canneries in Naknek, Kenai and Cordova.

"Where exactly they came from is beyond my recall, but certainly they may have come from the peninsula," McBride wrote.

Since last week's presentation, Klein has continued to hear of other remains.

"She's done a wonderful job of getting this whole thing coordinated," said Reger.

Summarizing the safest protocol to follow if remains are discovered, Reger said to leave the items where found.

"People need to be concerned about land ownership. Who owns that piece of property? Is it state owned? Federally owned? You would have to have a private owner's permission before working on private land," he said.

Pointing out that federal and state laws differ with regard to remains, Judy Bittner of the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology agreed with the need to leave pieces unmoved. Look, record and report was Bittner's advice. Photographs with enough detail to identify the location, GPS coordinates and maps are ways to record sites where remains are discovered. Online maps provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough identify landowners. With the number of state parks on the Kenai Peninsula, Bittner suggested notifying a park ranger if remains are found.

"Alaska Parks and Recreation often has a field presence that other state offices don't have, so letting a park ranger know is a good thing," said Bittner, adding, "Leave it where it is. That's most important."

Maps of the Kenai Peninsula Borough can be found online at www.borough.kenai.ak.us/. The Alaska Office of History and Archaeology can be reached at (907) 269-8721. Janet Klein can be reached at 235-8925.

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