AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - At the intersection of Southwest Ninth Avenue and South Tyler Street you'll find a historical marker that introduces you to one animal that used to roam the High Plains of Texas.
It wasn't deer, antelope or bison. It was a species of mammoth. Yes, those creatures that preceded what we call elephants.
How do we know this?
While crews were digging out the basement of what would become the Santa Fe Building in 1928, they found fossilized bones belonging to a Columbian mammoth.
Gerald Schultz, a professor of geology at West Texas A&M University, knows a few things about these beasts. The Columbian mammoth was named after Christopher Columbus, the sailor and explorer who is credited with discovering the New World, according to Schultz.
"We had four species of mammoth here," Schultz said, noting that the woolly mammoth also roamed around Siberia and crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into North America. He listed the Meridian mammoth and the Imperial mammoth as well.
"The Columbian mammoth was related to the Asian elephant," Schultz noted, making sure to differentiate the Asian species from the African species. "These are the elephants with the smaller ears," he said.
The Columbian mammoth was a huge beast, standing about 13 feet tall at the shoulder, which Schultz said is quite a bit larger than the African elephant, which is the largest species of elephant roaming Earth today.
The Santa Fe Building site isn't the only place where such fossils have been found, Schultz said.
Explorers have found bones in the Shamrock area in the eastern Texas Panhandle and at Dixon Creek north of Amarillo in Hutchinson County. "It's hard to come up with absolute dates on how old these bones are," Schultz said.
Were the mammoths as abundant as the bison would become before the "buffalo hunters" all but exterminated them in the 19th century? Schultz said no
The mammoth was a solitary animal and didn't congregate in large numbers the way its descendants – the modern elephant – does, he said.
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum has partial bones on display, according to Schultz.
Schultz estimated that the last of the mammoths on the High Plains likely died around 11,000 years ago, which he noted is in geological terms a virtual blink of time.
The Columbian mammoths are believed to have shared the High Plains with humans for a few thousand years before they became extinct. The region's human inhabitants hunted the beasts for food and used their bones to make weapons.
History tells us that the Columbian mammoth disappeared at the end of the Pleistocene Period. The reason for their extinction? Paleontologists blame their disappearance on loss of habit, climate change and hunting by humans.