CAN MAMMOTHS GO TO SCHOOL?
NO, BUT SCHOOLS CAN GO
SHARON K. HEINDEL
THE MAMMOTH Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota, Inc. is the largest accumulation of
Columbian Mammoths discovered in their primary context in the world. The site was found
in 1974, during excavation for a housing project. Over one million visitors from all over the
world have come to see the bone remains of 48 Columbian and 3 Woolly mammoths, plus 25
species of other animals that lived together 26,000 years ago.
The Mammoth Site is a popular tourist attraction, but it can also be considered a giant
classroom with numerous educational possibilities available. In 1991 our Outreach program
was started to encourage students within a 150 mile radius to visit the site for 30 minute
It soon became apparent that something more interesting than a guided tour was needed to
keep students coming back year after year. In 1993 we added our Junior Paleontologist dig
for students ages 7 to 15. The children who participate in this program learn how to properly
excavate fiberglass casts of mammoth bones that are buried in a mock dig. Depending on the
age and interest level of the student, they can also learn how to identify the bones they find,
prepare field notes, and map their excavation sites.
To further develop the educational possibilities of the Mammoth Site, we met with local
teachers from the Hot Springs Elementary school district. Eleven teachers (Kindergarten
through Fifth grade) volunteered to help develop hands-on curricular activities that would
take students out of their classrooms and into the Mammoth Site. Dr. Lois Veath, education
specialist from Chadron State College, Chadron, Nebraska was hired to develop activities in a
hands-on way to re-enforce concepts learned in the classroom.
We wanted to encourage return visits, so the activities are designed so that students learn a
new concept about the Mammoth Site each year. Some examples: what makes a fossil;
excavating, mapping, graphing; adaptation / extinction; and what animal tracks can tell us.
The activities are in three segments: pre-activities done in the classroom prior to coming to
the Mammoth Site; on-site activities done at the site; and post-activities that can be done back
in the classroom. It is important for students to understand that the study of the animals found
at the Mammoth Site help us learn what the environment in our area was like 26,000 years