Mead, J. I., J. S. Tweet, V. L. Santucci, J. T. Rasic, and S. E. Holte. 2020. Proboscideans from US National Park Service Lands. Eastern Paleontologist 6:1–48.
|Gomphotherium osborni in Elephant Hall, University of Nebraska State Museum. You may not realize it, but proboscidean fossils are very common in Nebraska. We haven't had a gomphothere photo yet, so it seemed appropriate.|
The project had a serendipitous beginning; my supervisor Vince Santucci and I occasionally produce inventories of fossil groups from NPS lands, as thematic inventories. We'd been kicking around ideas for our next such inventory and put the proboscideans on the short list. At SVP 2018, Vince got in contact with Jim Mead of The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs about the planned Quaternary section of the Grand Canyon National Park report. He also brought up the proboscidean inventory, Jim was interested, and all that was left was assembling notes, writing, and revising (you know, the easy part). (One of the side effects of the work I do is that I have a very eccentric CV. Of course, that's one of the things I love about my work, getting to work with a bit of everything.)
Despite the ponderous subjects, this is not what you'd call a "heavy" paper. It's a compendium of various reports. Having said that, many of these reports we compiled are either published only in a very limited way elsewhere, or are unpublished. These include internal park reports, collections information, and other such documentation. We cast a very wide net to be as comprehensive as possible; as such, you might think that some of the things we included are very marginal. There's everything from mammoth bonebeds to a tooth fragment found in a cave at Grand Canyon NP. There's dung-filled caves and several track sites. There are artifacts carved from ivory from Alaska. There's even a mastodon tooth found in Philadelphia that might have belonged to Benjamin Franklin.
In terms of geography, the occurrences are spread throughout the country, but there is a definite bias to the West. This is probably due in large part to factors outside of the actual distribution of proboscideans: there aren't as many large parks in the eastern US, many of the park units are in urban areas, and many of them were established for human events that occurred in the past couple hundred years. (There's one eastern record I wish I could have confirmed. Another time, maybe.) Most of the records are for Pleistocene mammoths and mastodons, although there are a few going back into the Pliocene and Miocene. I certainly now have a much greater appreciation for the fossil record of the Niobrara National Scenic River corridor.
Did we get everything? Well, we cast a wide net, as I said, but I would not be surprised if we missed things, especially given that many of the reports we did include are of limited circulation; surely there are others lurking in file cabinets and in the recesses of hard drives? In fact, I'm hoping this will lead to people pointing out records we missed. If there was an update in ten years, I would absolutely expect that there would be additions from things we overlooked. In particular, our records of fossils in National Natural Landmarks and National Historic Landmarks are in an early stage of development, making these the most logical candidates for new information. Anyway, if you're curious about proboscideans in the Parks, we've got you covered!
|Stegomastodon mirificus, same venue. Despite the name, it's not a close relative of mastodons (and certainly has nothing to do with Stegosaurus!); it's a later gomphothere.|