Date of this Version
U.S. Government Work
Quaternary vertebrate fossils, most notably mammoth remains, are relatively common on the northern Channel Islands of California. Well-preserved cranial, dental, and appendicular elements of Mammuthus exilis (pygmy mammoth) and Mammuthus columbi (Columbian mammoth) have been recovered from hundreds of localities on the islands during the past half-century or more. Despite this paleontological wealth, the geologic context of the fossils is described in the published literature only briefly or not at all, which has hampered the interpretation of associated 14C ages and reconstruction of past environmental conditions. We recently discovered a partial tusk, several large bones, and a tooth enamel plate (all likely mammoth) at two sites on the northwest flank of San Miguel Island, California. At both localities, we documented the stratigraphic context of the fossils, described the host sediments in detail, and collected charcoal and terrestrial gastropod shells for radiocarbon dating. The resulting 14C ages indicate that the mammoths were present on San Miguel Island between ~20 and 17 ka as well as between ~14 and 13 ka (thousands of calibrated 14C years before present), similar to other mammoth sites on San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa Islands. In addition to documenting the geologic context and ages of the fossils, we present a series of protocols for documenting and reporting geologic and stratigraphic information at fossil sites on the California Channel Islands in general, and in Channel Islands National Park in particular, so that pertinent information is collected prior to excavation of vertebrate materials, thus maximizing their scientific value.