A researcher from the University of Virginia has captured the internet’s interest after photographing a huge mammoth tusk sticking out of the side of a river bank in Alaska. Emerging from the clear layers of sediment which apparently dates back to the Pleistocene epoch (2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago), the tusk was spotted a couple of years ago along the Koyukuk river, near Coldfoot Alaska, and is being monitored by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
If you look closely, you may spot the ropes that have been attached to keep the tusk from falling into the river below.
Alaska is a treasure trove of woolly mammoth tusks and remains, with the mammoth being designated the Alaska state fossil in 1986. Thought to have gone extinct around 3,600 years ago, the woolly mammoth descended from the Steppe Mammoth, which crossed the land bridge connecting what is now Russia to Alaska around 100,000 years ago.
As such, finding mammoth tusks in Alaska is not particularly rare, but is nevertheless extraordinary. This particular one is notable for its precarious spot, but many other specimens have been discovered in melting ice and sometimes just lying around.
Mammoth tusks grow in layers, allowing scientists an almost unique insight into the life of the mammoth by analyzing each individual layer. At the end of last year, a bisection of a tusk revealed a mammoth had made an astonishing 50,000-mile (80,000-kilometer) trek across Alaska around 17,000 years ago.
With such a vast number of mammoth relics across the huge Alaskan wilderness, what should you do if you find one? Mammoth ivory is legal to keep, make into jewelry, and even take through customs (so long as you removed it from private land with the owner’s consent). Removal of ivory from state or federally-owned land is banned, though tracking such crimes is a tough job for local law enforcement. Due to its abundance, Mammoth ivory is not especially valuable, with jewelry shops in the area paying around $35-70 per pound, according to Deseret News.
If you find one on state land, you should contact authorities or leave it where it is.