Lima Township farmers Jim Bristle and Trent Satterthwaite hope their unexpected find of a Woolly Mammoth skeleton in a farm field last week hold clues to history.
Sunday, the two spent the afternoon talking about the discovery of Woolly Mammoth bones, large stones, which likely weighed it down by the nomads who killed it, and tools used by those ancient people.
Both are hoping that scientists can piece together the items found during the dig and that it could just rewrite history books.
When asked about his part in the special find, “It’s Jim’s property. My only claim to it is I hit it with a backhoe,” Satterthwaite said with a big smile.
As the two were digging through wheat stubble to install a catch basin for a drain field, Satterthwaite said he hit something that at first he thought was an old fence post.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a rib bone.
Then he hit what turned out to be a pelvis bone.
“I told Jim, ‘I think I hit a dinosaur,’ Satterthwaite said.
(Since then, he said, the two farmers have gotten quite an education, starting with the fact that a Woolly Mammoth is a mammal and not a dinosaur.)
It was hard to know what they found, however, because the items were covered in mud, so they called the University of Michigan and connected with Dan Fischer, who came to the site to take a look.
“A foot the other way, we would have missed it, Satterthwaite said of the spot chosen for the drainage catch basin.
In fact, this Woolly Mammoth find seems to be a lucky find times-three.
Fischer, an expert in the field, who usually isn’t in his office in Ann Arbor, happened to be there the day they called, and he had time to drive out to take a look.
Fischer told the farmers that he didn’t have the budget to bring out heavy equipment for the excavation but he could have students on site the next day.
Enter the third lucky break.
“Jamie Bollinger (owner of Bollinger Sanitation and Excavation) happened to call me,” Satterthwaite said, and when the excavator found out what needed to be done, he volunteered his time and equipment for a day.
And, although they were able to keep the find quiet for a day, the close knit Chelsea farming community was soon abuzz with what the two had found.
Recovered from the site was about 20 percent of the Woolly Mammoth’s body – including teeth, the skull (found upside down), tusks, bottom jaw, shoulder blade, ribs, pelvis and vertebrae.
The animal is thought to be between 15,000 and 20,000 years old and was killed by nomads, who then weighted it down in what was most likely a pond at the time.
“This is history and it affects everyone,” Jim Bristle said, adding that the bones need to be appraised by an outside expert.
He said he hopes that everything will work out and it will eventually be on display at the U-M museum.
“Maybe they’ll call it the Bristle Woolly Mammoth,” he said jokingly.
But the best part about all the attention that the find has generated?
For Bristle, “To see young people’s expressions when they see it,” adding his grandson just stood there staring at it with his mouth open.
Plus, “I like the fact that it’s older, a lot older, than me,” Bristle said.
He has a verbal agreement with U-M to donate the items to the museum if all the details can be worked out. But for now, the two farmers hope that the large excavated area will dry out soon so they can get back to work and “finish tiling the field.”
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