For two decades, a circus tent stood on the outskirts of Waco, Texas, not far from the point where the Bosque and Brazos rivers converge. But the real elephant attraction was below: Columbian mammoths, still preserved in their death pose, more than 60,000 years after floodwaters left them buried in mud.
How—and when—did the animals die? New research found a likely answer within the sediments that entombed the creatures. The paper, which was recently published in Quaternary Research, concludes that the original 16 mammoths from the herd were likely standing in the wet, sandy sediment near the confluence of the two rivers when a storm hit. As floodwaters rose, the animals might have been trapped between the river and the ravine’s walls. At 12-to-14 feet tall and weighing seven to eight tons, Columbian mammoths weren’t exactly agile. Perhaps they couldn’t climb the steep slopes to escape in time. Some might have even been trapped in a mudslide. Other mammoths seem to have died in a similar storm while visiting the same area years later.