Farmers Make Sensational Woolly Mammoth Discovery Beneath Soybean Field

    “We have a story about finding it,” says Trent Satterthwaite, “and the mammoth has a story all its own.” (Photo by Daryl Marshke, University of Michigan Photography)

    Of all the tiny spots in a sea of soybeans, Jim Bristle and Trent Satterthwaite hit the honey hole. Bull’s-eye. Motherlode. When the pair of Midwest farmers dropped a backhoe bucket 8’ below mature beans and felt the machinery groan and shift, they struck a massive, prehistoric beast hidden in blue clay and released the creature from an 15,000-year sleep.

    Farmland is the vault of the unseen, and Bristle and Satterthwaite made one of the most unlikely scientific discoveries of the 21st century—a woolly mammoth skeleton alongside three telltale boulders.

    “A mammoth in my soybeans is the find of our lifetimes,” Bristle says, “but even now, when I’m driving or walking across the field, I can’t help but wonder: What else is down there?”

    “We have a story about finding it,” Satterthwaite adds, “and the mammoth has a story all its own.”

    Buckets In, Bones Out

    Burned out vehicles, trash containers, and junk of all sorts—farmland is often the public’s dump site for a steady parade of refuse. “Everything from marijuana plots where growers took out our crop and snuck in their own to the bodies of murder victims,” Satterthwaite says. “We’re not artifact hunters or collectors and probably the two most unlikely guys to stumble over something considered sensational.”

    Satterthwaite and Bristle at the 40-acre field

    On rolling ground outside Chelsea in southeast Michigan’s Washtenaw County, Satterthwaite, 64, grows corn and soybeans. Likewise, Bristle, 75, grows grain on a nearby 565-acre operation. In 2015, the long-time friends purchased equipment for a joint side-business and began installing and repairing field tile on area farms. Significantly, in 2015, Bristle bought an additional 40 acres—farmland he’d previously rented that fit his overall operation but needed a touch of drainage work.

    At noon on Sept. 29, 2015, just prior to soybean harvest, on a clear, sunny day with temps ideally hovering in the mid-60s, Bristle and Satterthwaite set to work on the new ground, intent on installing a needed lift station and sub-pump. Roughly 1,000’ off Highway M-52, surrounded by 3’-high soybeans in heavy dirt, Bristle steered a mini-excavator and Satterthwaite operated a backhoe on opposite sides of a 5’-by-5’ hole.

    “We were burying a 32” catch basin, so we wanted to keep the hole as small as possible, straight down,” Satterthwaite details.

    Michigan Farmer Jim Bristle

    Buckets in and dirt out, their digging was clockwork—until the steel reached blue clay at an 8’ depth.

    “I came outta the hole with the backhoe and I was confused by what looked like a bent fencepost in the bucket. It was 4’ or 5’ long and several inches wide,” Satterthwaite recalls.

    He shut off the backhoe and pulled the odd object—a rib—from extracted dirt. “Jim, did you bury any fencing around here? Did you bury any cows around here? Jim?”

    Staring in wonder, Bristle paused before answering: “We both know that’s no cow bone.”

    Tiger by the Tail

    Back onto their equipment, Bristle and Satterthwaite again dropped buckets into a pit ready to reveal its secrets.

    Michigan Farmer Trent Satterthwaite

    “Jim, I see more bones on your side.”

    “Trent, I see more bones on your side.”

    Within minutes, Satterthwaite’s bucket momentarily lodged and he felt the backhoe shift. “I didn’t know it at the time,” he says, “but I hit the skull and that pulled the entire backhoe. That’s when we were certain something giant was down there.”

    The next object out was a pelvic bone. “Up came what looked like a piece of tree stump,” Satterthwaite says, “but when we looked closer, there was clear honeycomb texture. No doubt, we knew we were on a prehistoric animal or dinosaur.”

    “The second piece out was the big reveal,” Bristle echoes. “It was obviously old—seriously old. A few years back, mastodon bones were found about 2 miles from the exact spot where we were digging, so we understood the potential.”

    In a sense, Bristle and Satterthwaite had a tiger by the tail. They were uncertain of the legal ramifications surrounding the bones and the remainder of the hole’s content.

    “Harvest was almost here, but we didn’t know what we’d just got ourselves into,” Bristle says. “Do we tell anyone? Also, if we didn’t fill in right away, the hole would fill with water because we already had a bottom attached to a pipe we were putting in. We decided to cover it up and deal with the rest later.”

    The pair of Michigan farmers googled state land rights and law: Bottom line, private land ownership gave Bristle full discretion. That evening, he carried the rib home and Satterthwaite watched over the pelvic piece. The following morning, they called the University of Michigan (UM) Museum of Paleontology and left a message detailing their find. “I’m a farmer,” Bristle says. “I just wanted to get the tiling done and cut beans. But I also didn’t want to ignore something so important to science.”

    Into the Depths

    When Dan Fisher, curator of the UM Museum of Paleontology, received word of unusual bones in a soybean field, he didn’t flinch. A renowned authority on woolly mammoths and mastodons, Fisher suspected Bristle’s soybean site contained far more than a few giant bones.

    Prehistoric remains on farmland

    “When prehistoric remains are found, its usually on farmland,” Fisher notes. “Sometimes it’s a result of shallow plowing, but in this case, Jim and Trent had gone deep into the geologic record.”

    Within hours of the telephone call, Fisher was standing at the filled hole. “I immediately saw bones on the surface in the mud that hadn’t been recognized as bones. No question in my mind, this was likely very significant.”

    The following morning, Fisher returned with a Hydra Hoe and a fleet of graduate students armed with shovels. “They dug out about a 40’ diameter and dug stair-stepped shelves to keep it safe,” Bristle explains. “Down they went.”

    As the Hydra Hoe began peeling back layers of time, the progress was initially painstaking, according to Bristle: “At first, it was like watching paint dry. They’d dig to a point and then go by hand with brushes and hand spades.”

    At 8’ in depth, the past awoke. Buried for 15,500 years in the clay of a former pond bed and protected from exposure to oxygen, a massive woolly mammoth skull, with both 9’ tusks still attached, came into view. The remains belonged to an adult male in its mid 40s, 6-7 tons in weight, and 13-14’ tall at the shoulder.

    Professor Daniel Fisher

    Fisher precisely predicted what happened next: “Professor Fisher nailed it,” Satterthwaite recalls. “He said to watch out for rocks around the skull. He was exactly right. Next thing we knew, surrounded by all that clay, they found three rocks right where he said—big ones.”

    The rocks were plain evidence. The woolly mammoth’s millennia-long preservation under Bristle’s soybeans wasn’t all to chance.

    Scavenger’s Feast

    Bristle’s mammoth was scavenged—not killed—by Native Americans, Fisher explains, somewhere around 15,500 years ago. “The best evidence is he died during mating season, either in late spring or early summer. It’s possible he got into a fight with another male because there’s evidence of damage to his skull that looks to have been inflicted by the tusk of another animal in a slamming action. People on the landscape would have heard the fighting. They came along afterwards, got supper, and then stored the meat.”

    Woolly Mammoth in Farmland Mud

    The mammoth remains were preserved in the shallow waters in pond sediment now below Bristle’s soybeans. “They stashed what they couldn’t eat or carry in the pond. This kicked in a natural method of preservation of the meat by lactic acid-producing bacteria. Organisms in the pond water generate lactic acid in the meat and pickle it, temporarily preserving it,” Fisher notes. “The people could come back months later, or even several seasons later and the meat would largely be protected from scavengers.”

    The three stones found around the mammoth skull were roughly the size of basketballs—with one specimen significantly larger. Their purpose? Hammer stones or weights to hold down the mammoth? Fisher suggests otherwise: “The people returned in winter to get the meat, but the water was frozen over, often solid to 1’ or more. Chopping ice that thick would have been quite a task. I’ve tested this with success, and I believe they placed the small boulders on the ice a day or two in advance, right above the mammoth remains. The rocks warmed in the sun, which happens with temps just a little over freezing, and the rocks’ weight did the rest. Then they widened the holes and accessed the meat.”

    Mammoth molar

    Approximately 20% of the skeleton was found—skull and tusks, numerous vertebrae and ribs, pelvis and both shoulder blades.

    The research on Bristle’s mammoth is ongoing and continues to provide invaluable insights. “It’s truly a key find and shows how far back human presence goes in our area,” Fisher says. “It’s also really important to celebrate the partnership between farmers, landowners, and paleontology. We can’t get the answers to our past without each other and finds like what came out of Jim’s soybean field highlight human history on this continent.”

    “Hard to Top”

    After the bone find, Bristle changed the farm location name from Generation Acres to Mammoth Acres. He donated the skeletal remains to the UM Museum of Paleontology. “I wanted it in the museum for everyone. People don’t realize the unbelievable size until they see the bones and tusks. My 87-year-old neighbor asked if I had any teeth left from the mammoth because he wanted to put one on a chain and wear it around his neck,” Bristle says with a wide grin. “But one tooth can be 10” long and weigh 10 lb. That’s more than you can fit in your hand.”

    Mammoth Acres Farm

    Sharing a bond unique in agriculture and beyond, Bristle and Satterthwaite often recall the day they uncovered the giant bones. “I still show people the pictures,” Satterthwaite says. “It never gets old. We still talk about it and we’ll always talk about it. Farmers love to trade stories, but ours is hard to top considering a 7-ton prehistoric creature was hiding under Jim’s soybeans.”

    And what about Bristle’s soybean crop above the mammoth? When the hole was filled in and harvest began, what did the beans cut? “I don’t remember the number they yielded,” he laughs. “But I promise you we got in there fast and the number wasn’t too bad.”

    For more from Chris Bennett ( 662-592-1106) see:

    Priceless Pistol Found After Decades Lost in Farmhouse Attic

    Judas Goats: Agriculture’s Bizarre, Drug-Addicted Masters of Deceit Once Ruled the Killing Floor

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    Tractorcade: How an Epic Convoy and Legendary Farmer Army Shook Washington, D.C.

    Bagging the Tomato King: The Insane Hunt for Agriculture’s Wildest Con Man

    Young Farmer uses YouTube and Video Games to Buy $1.8M Land

    While America Slept, China Stole the Farm

    Bizarre Mystery of Mummified Coon Dog Solved After 40 Years

    The Arrowhead whisperer: Stunning Indian Artifact Collection Found on Farmland

    Fleecing the Farm: How a Fake Crop Fueled a Bizarre $25 Million Ag Scam

    Skeleton In the Walls: Mysterious Arkansas Farmhouse Hides Civil War History

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