Can you imagine mammoths walking the streets of Grangeville? Before Sept. 2, 1994, no one else could either. But on that date, a heavy equipment operator for Prairie Land and Timber, found a "big bone" when he was digging in Tolo Lake. That four-foot long and twelve-inch-diameter bone turned out to be the thigh bone of a Columbian mammoth, Mammuthus Columbia.
Then the Work Began
In just one summer of excavating, bones from at least nine mammoths and two prehistoric bison (Bison antiques) were uncovered in Tolo Lake. Scientists believe that Tolo Lake may be the largest mammoth graveyard in the United States, with up to 200 mammoth skeletons.
The excavation was led by Idaho Museum of Natural History staff in cooperation with the Idaho State Historical Society and the University of Idaho.
Volunteers, many from Grangeville but some from as far away as Tennessee, assisted with the excavating, guiding tours, and lending support. Tolo Lake received almost 12,000 visitors for site tours during the summer of 1995.
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Tolo Lake Today
Tolo Lake lies about five miles west of Grangeville on the edge of the Camas Prairie. The discovery of mammoths came about because of work designed to improve fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities
at the lake. Tolo Lake looks much different today than it did during the summer of 1995. Instead of bare earth and people digging and scraping, you'll see a 30-acre lake where people are boating and fishing or skating and picnicking - all thanks to the management efforts of Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management, and Nez Perce National Historical Park. You may see someone watching birds rather than brushing off bones. But don't count that out.
For now, the bones and excavation site have been covered with 86 million gallons of water to protect them from weathering and disturbance. In the future, the Idaho Museum of Natural History has the option to continue excavation if funding becomes available.
So, mammoths may never walk Grangeville's streets again, but the people who "dig" them are around for good!