The remains of approximately 60 mammoths were found last week in Santa Lucía, State of Mexico, during construction and installation work on the “General Felipe Ángeles” International Airport.
Just a few days after the find, there are already petitions on the Change.org platform to stop the construction work and have the zone declared a cultural heritage site, as well as send some of the skeletons to different museums in Mexico.
Felisa Aguilar, Paleontology Board Chairwoman from the National Anthropology and History Institute (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, INAH), tells Tec Review about the process the pieces will undergo and what is known about this species of mammoth.
Which species of mammoth do the remains belong to?
Mammuthus columbi, which was a species weighing between 8 and 10 tons that lived in North America during the Pleistocene. According to the fossil record in Mexico, remains of this species have been found throughout the country, with the exception of Yucatán and Tabasco.
Aguilar attributes the find in this zone to the number of lakes there were. However, it’s likely that many bones, pieces, and other fauna existing in this era have been scattered due to fluctuations in these.
“People think that whole skeletons have been found, and that’s not the case. When organisms die, there are different processes and stages in which skeletons are scattered and we don’t always find them with all the pieces joined together,” she says.
Will the construction work be canceled due to the find?
Concerning queries as to whether it’s possible to stop construction in zones where the control tower and airport runways would be, Felisa Aguilar says that these will go ahead.
“This find wasn’t made by chance. There have been finds in this zone since the 1950s that meant it was likely we discover more megafauna, but the numbers have exceeded our expectations and will serve to gather information on the region’s past,” she says.
She says that although this evidence won’t prevent work from carrying on, what can be done is to implement a detailed strategy for monitoring the zone better. The aim of this is for the INAH to be able to recover the pieces.
What comes next after this find?
The next step is to carry out rescue archeology, gather information, and perform an in-depth study of the mammoth remains found. Aguilar says that an interdisciplinary team will be set up to carry out this process, consisting of paleontologists, biologists, and restorers.
Exploration grids (small areas of controlled excavation) will also be proposed in Santa Lucía to search for more environmental evidence.
Aguilar says that this type of infrastructure project, in which excavations to great depths are made, allow us to recover a great deal of older evidence.
Finally, this specialist celebrated the plan to create a museum within the future airport with some of the pieces found, so that it would become a space to display the finds and explain the importance of mammoths in Mexico.