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Rural Alaska

Man unearths massive mammoth tusk in Northwest Alaska

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: September 9
  • Published September 8

Justin Schultze and a cousin were duck hunting near the Northwest Alaska village of Shishmaref when a log sticking from a cliff caught his eye.

Except it wasn't a log.

"It was shiny," he said.

So he and a friend started digging through the clay-like soil with their hands, and kept digging, for half an hour until they could yank it from the earth.

They'd discovered a full woolly mammoth tusk, as big as a tree branch, arcing gracefully like a giant letter C. They later weighed it on a meat scale, at 177 pounds, it's length measuring 12 feet.

Brandon Nayokpuk, pictured in the hat, sits with cousin Eric Nayokpuk near a woolly mammoth tusk. The tusk was found early this month when Brandon and another cousin, Justin Schultze, were hunting near the village of Shishmaref. Photo by Justin Schultze.

Shishmaref, on the Chukchi Sea north of Nome, like other Arctic villages, has been hit hard by climate change. The stable sea ice hunters once traveled on, and where they found walrus, has more frequently turned to water.

Storms with surging waves have wiped out sections of road along coastlines once protected by ice, including last year in Shishmaref.

[Colder weather forecast in Southcentral, but warmer in regions lacking sea ice.]

But an occasional upside are the treasures unveiled by erosion. Village residents have found lots of mammoth bones and teeth, Schultze said. Near the village a couple of years ago, someone found a mammoth tusk bigger than his, weighing more than 200 pounds.

Together, Schultze and his cousin Brandon Nayokpuk hefted the tusk to the skiff they used to reach the mainland from their barrier island village of about 600.

It took up much of the floor in their house. In recent days, about half the village came to see it, Schultze said. Most of the surface appears smooth like polished amber, the center encircled with dark ribbons. The tip appears gray and dull, weathered, Schultze said.

By Saturday, Schultze said he'd already sold it to a man in Anchorage. Schultze said he didn't know what would become of it.

The tusk helped him reflect on the massive size of the animals that once roamed Alaska, he said.

It fetched a nice sum even after splitting the money with his cousin, he said, without providing specifics. Tusks can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

Schultze said he might use the money to "buy a sno-go, or a gun."

Correction: This story has been edited to reflect that Shishmaref is on the Chukchi Sea coast, not the Bering Sea.

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