When you think of the California coastline, one of the most populated regions of the country, it’s hard to imagine that up until about 10,000 years ago wooly mammoths about the size of today’s elephants roamed the land. They also swam to nearby islands, where it’s believed they evolved into a smaller species.

Scientists in 2014 found a wooly mammoth skull buried in a stream bed on Santa Rosa island, part of the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Ventura. After excavating the fossilized remains, the paleontologists recently had the find brought by boat to the mainland. 

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The skull, wrapped in burlap sacks and padded within a shipping crate, was carefully lifted off a boat in Ventura before awaiting transfer soon to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Retired park service archeologist Don Morris said the fossil represents the largest intact skull he’s ever seen from the islands. Researchers believe that mammoths, which stood about 14 feet tall and weighed around 20,000 pounds, swam out to the Channel islands around 150,000 years ago. It was here that they evolved into a smaller pygmy mammoth.

“He has been resting there peacefully until we came along,” Morris told the Ventura County Star. “Now, he’s made a trip back to the mainland from whence his ancestors came.”

Researchers still have some sleuthing to do, however, as they aren’t sure exactly what type of mammoth they’ve discovered. It’s a bit too big for a pygmy and still too large for a Columbian. One of its tusks measured four feet long, indicating considerable age. 

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