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  Geology and Paleontology Hall

The formation and history of our region are described and highlighted with examples of living things that occurred here in the past. Among the unique and important fossils exhibited here are a 19,000-year-old toothed bird, a Miocene giant toothed whale, and the Channel Islands pygmy mammoths.

The most complete Pygmy Mammoth skeleton ever found inspired the centerpiece of the Geology and Paleontology Hall -- a re-creation of the skeleton as it appeared in situ. Adjacent to this is an exhibit with an articulated Pygmy Mammoth skeleton and a painting of a full-sized Columbian Mammoth and American Mastodon. Columbian Mammoths swam to Santarosae, a large island off our coast during Pleistocene times. As sea levels rose and Santarosae became several smaller islands, the mammoths evolved into a pygmy form better suited to survival in the limited habitat.

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth (Mammuthus exilis)
A fantastic new discovery has been brought to the forefront of science with the recent discovery of the most complete skeleton to date of a Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth (Mammuthus exilis). The skeleton was excavated on Santa Rosa Island in August of 1994 by a team of National Park Service researchers led by Dr. Larry Agenbroad, a Museum Research Associate. Pygmy Mammoth excavation exhibit

This is the only full sized skeleton of the species anywhere in the world, and the first to be dated. Scientists estimate the age at 12,840 years old. The pony-sized species, a distant relative of the modern elephant, is believed to have lived only on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz islands.

Mammoth fossil hunting on the Channel Islands is not a new pastime. Museum collections house Pygmy Mammoth remains from 27 localities previously documented by Phil Orr, a researcher at the museum during the 1940s and 50s. Recent excavations by Dr. Agenbroad have added an additional 66 sites that better define the Pygmy Mammoth's range.

The current theory of Pygmy Mammoth origins traces back nearly 20,000 years, when the sea level was about 300 feet lower than present day. The four Northern Channel Islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Anacapa were joined together to form one large island known as "Santarosae". A submarine canyon between this land mass and Port Hueneme separated island from mainland by only a few miles. The Pygmy Mammoth's ancestors, the Columbian Mammoth which stood nearly 14 feet tall, probably swam out to the islands. Life on the islands was probably very harsh and over the years competition increased as food became more scarce. Smaller animals needed less food, making them better adapted to survive during times of stress. Thus, over time, the Pygmy Mammoth evolved. Presently, researchers are finding remains of both the Columbian and Pygmy races of Mammoths on the islands.

Decades ago, Orr hypothesized that Pygmy Mammoths were driven to extinction through hunting by Chumash Indians. There is new anthropological research that indicates an overlap of humans and mammoths on the islands. The oldest human remains have recently been traced to within 500 years of the skeletal remains of the Pygmy Mammoth. Other researchers believe the extinction is the result of global warming. Dr. Agenbroad believes pygmy mammoth extinction resulted from a combination of the two factors.

The Museum's exhibit details the process of excavation and contains a full replica of the Pygmy Mammoth skeleton "in situ" as unearthed on Santa Rosa in 1994. Please stop by and check out these old bones that give a fascinating new twist to island evolution and anthropological ideas!

Geology and Paleontology Hall

 

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