When farmer James Bristle was digging in a soy field with a friend near Chelsea, MI, earlier this year, he stumbled upon one hell of an interesting surprise: The remains of a woolly mammoth. Bristle's family has owned the farm across from the site of the mammoth's discovery since the 1950s, but it was only a little over two months ago when he acquired the additional land and began digging around to create lift stations for a natural gas line that he stumbled upon the bones of an infamous animal that has been extinct for over 10,000 years, reports CBS News. At first, "We thought it was a bent fence post. It was covered in mud," Bristle told the Ann Arbor News. Researchers from the University of Michigan were soon brought in to examine the find and professor Daniel Fisher, director and curator at the university's Museum of Paleontology, told CBS Detroit that he knew exactly what it was when he saw the bones. "I saw a part of a shoulder blade and there is a certain curve on a certain part of it that goes one way if it's a mastodon and another way if it's a mammoth," Fisher describes. "I recognized that and said, 'Humm, I think we have a mammoth here.'" The university team then went about the intricate process of retrieving bones from the site, including what Fisher called a "very nice skull and tusks," ribs, vertebra, and the mammoth's jaw.
So how did it get here, exactly? "It turns out we are dealing with carcass parts of animals, in some cases hunted, in other cases maybe not, but in any event, butchered by ancient humans, what we call Paleo-Indians — people who lived in North America about 12 to 13,000 years ago," Fisher explained. After being killed by early human hunters, the mammoth remains were likely placed in a pond or other naturally cold body of water as an early answer to refrigeration, he posits. The woolly mammoth, which lived during the Pleistocene era, was one of the last in a line of mammoth species and according to researchers cited by CBS News, looked a bit like a furrier version of the modern-day elephant. (Awwww?) As for what will happen to the discovery now, that remains a mystery. The bones technically belong to the farmer that found them, and while Fisher and others hope that Bristle opts to donate them to help better educate researchers about the biology of mammoths, an official decision on their future has yet to be made.