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As It Was: Fossil Lake Preserves Footprints of Giant Mammoths

Southeast Oregon’s Fossil Lake has attracted amateur fossil collectors and paleontologists since the l880s, but a recent discovery astounded University of Oregon scientists.

They already knew that giant Columbian mammoths once foraged along an ancient lake that covered the basin and present-day Fossil Lake.  Newly discovered in 2017 were more than 100 preserved mammoth tracks dating back more than 43,000 years.  One trail of tracks appears to have been made by a limping, injured female mammoth attended by juvenile mammoths in a manner resembling present-day elephant behavior.  University paleontologist Gregory J. Retallack told the Klamath Falls Herald and News that “tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior.”

Fossil Lake is some 74 miles northwest of Lakeview, the Lake County seat of government.  Over the years, the lake has yielded more Holocene Epoch fossils from 8,000 to 50,000 years old than any other location in the world except for the La Brea Tar Pits in California.  Other fossils date back 2 million years.

Mammal fossils include ground sloths, giant beavers, pre-historic bison, extinct bears, and several species of camels and horses.


Sources: Liedtke, Kurt. "Mammoth steps found at Fossil Lake." Herald and News, 2 May 2018 [Klamath Falls, Ore.], https://www.heraldandnews.com/news/local_news/mammoth-steps-found-at-fossil-lake/article_72c659d4-38f6-545f-b7a2-5718be8c4d51.html. Accessed 14 May 2018; Retallack, Gregory J. "Late Pleistocene mammoth trackway from Fossil Lake, Oregon." Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 1 May 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031018217312154?via%3Dihub#! Accessed 14 May 2018

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.