UPDATE 8/12/2020 Park reopening – The park is working to increase access in a phased approach. The park’s trails and picnic area are open. The park’s dig shelter, restrooms and outside bookstore are open at limited capacity. Please follow local area health orders and avoid crowding.. Guided tours of the fossil site are temporarily suspended though self-guided access is available (fee applies).
The five-acre Waco Mammoth National Monument sits within 100+ acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. Surrounded by oak, mesquite and cedar trees, the site offers an escape from the modern world and provides a glimpse into the lives of Columbian mammoths.
"The nation's first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths" -National Park Service
On a spring day in 1978, Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin embarked on a search for arrowheads and fossils near the Bosque River. To their surprise, the men stumbled upon a large bone eroding out of a ravine. Recognizing the unusual nature of the find, they removed the bone and took it to the Strecker Museum at Baylor University for examination.
The bone was identified as Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). Museum staff members quickly organized a team of volunteers and excavation began at the site. Using hand tools such as brushes and bamboo scrapers, crews slowly excavated a lost world. Between 1978 and 1990, the fossil remains of 16 Columbian mammoths were discovered.
Between 1990 and 1997, six additional mammoths were excavated, including a large male (bull). Crews also uncovered the remains of a camel (Camelops hesternus) and the tooth of a juvenile saber-tooth cat (Smilodon sp.), which was found next to an unidentified animal.
Though the first bones were discovered in the 1970’s, the site remained closed to the public until the end of 2009. For more than 30 years, Baylor University staff, students and volunteers spent countless hours excavating the site.
In 2006, plans were initiated to make the site a public park. With the support of the Waco Mammoth Foundation, this goal became a reality. The Waco Mammoth Site opened to the public in December 2009 courtesy of the City of Waco Parks and Recreation Department. In 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating Waco Mammoth National Monument.
How the animals died is still a mystery. No evidence of human involvement was found, and most of the remains did not appear disturbed by predators or scavengers. One of the first hypotheses was that the animals perished in a catastrophic tragedy. However, recent geology research indicates the animals died in a series of events spread across many years.
Approximately 65,000 years ago, rapidly rising waters from the Bosque River flooded the site. At least 19 mammoths from a nursery herd were trapped in a steep-sided channel and drowned. A camel may have also been trapped. Later floods buried the remains.
A second event took place sometime later. During this event, an unidentified animal associated with a juvenile saber-tooth cat died and was buried. The third event involved a bull, a juvenile, and an adult female. Approximately 15,000 years after the nursery herd was trapped, these animals also appear to have been victims of rising water, unable to escape due to the slippery slopes of the surrounding channel.
The discovery of additional fossil material during the construction of the Dig Shelter will help further the research into when and how the Waco mammoths lived and died.
Please support our preservation mission as access to the fossil bed inside the Dig Shelter is by ticket only. Fee applies.