It’s a Dry Watering Hole not a Catastrophic Kill – #365papers – 2017 – 21

#365papers for January 21, 2017

Wiest, Esker, and Driese, 2016, The Waco Mammoth National Monument may represent a diminished watering-hole scenario base on preliminary evidence of post-mortem scavenging: Palaios, v. 31, p. 592-606.

What’s it about?

The Waco Mammoth National Monument (WMNM) is a site where multiple mammoths have been fossilized together. The demographics of the animals suggests that it was a single herd of mammoths that died catastrophically. This paper provides evidence that what really happened is that these animals died as a result of dehydration at a diminishing watering-hole.

The primary evidence for this new interpretation is the study of trace fossils – indirect evidence of the activity of animals. In this case, there is preserved evidence of scavenging, which would not be expected so much in a catastrophic kill.

Additionally, death due to a drying water hole explains the absence of juvenile mammoths, which would have been expected if this represented a complete herd.

Why does it matter?

This new hypothesis helps explain some evidence that was not satisfactorily explained by the catastrophic kill hypothesis. It also explains other observations at WMNM, including the great diversity of animals besides the mammoths.

Furthermore, this study provides a new means to investigate the origins of large collections of bones – though the use of ichnology, the study of trace fossils.

Why did I read this?

This popped up in my news feed and it seemed interesting. I thought it might also be relevant in my current course as examples of both taphonomy (the process of fossilization) and ichnology (the study of traces left behind by the activity of animals).

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