During her 22-years of gold mining in the Yukon, Nancy Schmidt found plenty of things in the permafrost, including the mammoth tusk she donated to the Penticton Art Gallery for their auction.
“I have two more, and I thought, ‘How many mammoth tusks does a girl need?’” Schmidt told the Western News with a laugh. “I thought it would be something unique and a really neat gift to the whole art auction.”
Much of the gold in the Yukon is buried beneath a thick layer of permafrost, which has to be removed in order for the miners to start excavating the paydirt below. That permafrost layer is still valuable for researchers and the miners, as it is where the many paleontological finds are located.
“A large part of my life, we would work with the scientists from all over the world who would come up to go through the material looking for Pleistocene-era mammals,” said Schmidt who now calls Penticton home.
The Ice Age-era mammals that they found included not only mammoths, but steppe bison, short-faced bears, ancient caribou, the Yukon camel and more.
Once the animals were found, they were pulled out and placed in the ‘science room’ where they were stored and allowed to acclimate to modern conditions after 45-to-50,000 years of being frozen.
The four-and-a-half foot long tusk that was donated to the Penticton Art Gallery weighs around 45 pounds, and that is a 10th of the size of the largest that Schmidt has seen. Those larger finds were generally picked up by various researchers or museums.
“The biggest one was around 450 pounds of tusk,” said Schmidt. “So what happens is the bone-raiders, as we call them, would come around — from the Paleontology Department of the Yukon Territorial Government — would come around to the different mines that wanted to give the material for research and they would take it.”
That research in the Yukon, and the vast amounts of bones stored by the department, looks at the wealth of DNA, patterns of migration, changes in historical oxygen levels and other material that can be extracted from the bones of animals found not only in the Yukon but from Alaska and other parts of the world, even from out of the Bering Sea.
Although most of the finds during her own digs and work weren’t much more than tusks, there was one nearby discovery that Schmidt assisted with.
“I didn’t find one, but there was a full skull found in the 60-mile area with two tusks,” said Schmidt. “I was part of helping them get it out and get ahold of the paleontologists and kept it at my place until they came. That was a very exciting find.”
The mammoth tusk is currently up for bidding on as part of the Penticton Art Gallery’s 44th annual art auction fundraiser. Among the other interesting auction items up for grabs is an astronaut suit and Andy Warhol paintings.
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