Before the ski areas, buildings and homes, our area was occupied by some pretty hefty characters. Mastodons and mammoths roamed much of New York State roughly 12,000 years ago. In 1934 the East Randolph Fish Hatchery was in the process of expanding a pond when they stumbled across some old bones. Buried about 8 feet down, encapsulated in blue clay, were the partial remains of a Colombian Mammoth. This was the most complete mammoth skeleton found in New York and consisted of the skull, two tusks, a lower molar and other various bones. The Randolph Mammoth finds are the “youngest” dated bones (12,000 – 13,000 years) on record, while the Tunkamoose Mastodon’s are the oldest in the state (14,000 years).
Following the discovery of the remains, the Colombian Mammoth’s bones went on display for a short time and were quite the tourist attraction. Unofficial reports put attendance at over 6,000 people in just one weekend! To protect the find, viewers were kept at a distance to avoid would-be souvenir seekers from damaging the tusks and bones. Shortly after, the remains made their way to Albany where they were treated and preserved for display at the New York State Museum.
After spending 82 years in our capital, the Randolph Mammoth is coming home for a visit. The old bones will find shelter inside the Cattaraugus County Museum for a full year beginning this month. A grand opening celebration will take place beginning at 10am on Saturday, August 6 featuring a talk given by Robert Feranec, the Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the State Museum in Albany. There will be a free commemorative water bottle for the first 200 visitors to the museum for the Grand Opening! In preparation for the exhibit, the Cattaraugus County Museum is seeking assistance from the public. Anyone with photographs, written accounts, or even first-hand accounts of the mammoth at the time of its discovery is encouraged to contact the museum at 716-353-8200 or through their website, www.CattCo.org/museum/contact. You can also email BJMcClellan@cattco.org or reach out via the Cattaraugus County Museum’s Facebook page. August 6th’s grand opening event is free and open to the public.
Even though there have been many mammoth and mastodon discoveries in New York State over the years, the Randolph Mammoth was the first of its kind here. He was a Colombian Mammoth, which evolved from the Steppe Mammoth - a well-travelled beast that found its way to North America from Asia about 1.5 million years ago. While the Colombian Mammoth roamed these areas, he didn’t roam the land alone; he had some friends. For a few thousand years these mammoths coexisted with the first humans to inhabit the Americas. The friendship didn’t last long, however. The Colombian Mammoth most likely became extinct from habitat loss due to climate change and hunting by humans.
Mammoths in general preferred open areas filled with fresh grass and plants.
Our subject, the Colombian, had long, curved tusks and trunk that were used for finding food, fighting and moving objects. They ground up grass and vegetation with a set of four big molars that were replaced six times during its lifetime. They steered clear of the Arctic regions where their cousin, the Woolly Mammoth, lived. It sounds like they liked to visit though, due to evidence of breeding between the two families. This created some hybrid mammoths … can you say evolution?
The Randolph Mammoth is a part of New York’s history and shows that pre-historic life was present here in the Southern Tier. I wonder how many more will be uncovered as areas develop. In my research, I’ve read that there have been over 90 mammoth and mastodon finds over the years. The staff is excited for the mammoth’s return to this area, so please take some time to visit the Cattaraugus County Museum (9824 Route 16 in Machias) and support our local history.
And for goodness sake, will someone please give this poor animal a real name? I like Max.