Planet Earth

Finding a Mammoth in Your Backyard? Priceless.

Selling it? Not so easy.

By Anne CasselmanMay 24, 2007 12:00 AM

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John Hebior, a 76-year-old retired farmer in Kenosha, ­Wisconsin, leads a pretty normal life. Except in the basement of his farmhouse he has a mammoth skeleton that he’s looking to sell. “It’s all crated up, but it still takes up a lot of room—about a 12-by-12-foot square,” he says.

Back in 1976, Hebior’s son stumbled over a peculiarly large bone in the middle of a cornfield. The family wondered about it for a bit and then forgot about it until 1993, when archaeologists led by David Overstreet of Marquette University were excavating a mammoth skeleton on a neighbor’s land. Hebior showed the bone to the neighbor, who showed it to Overstreet, who began excavating Hebior’s land. Overstreet never found the rest of that mammoth, but he did turn up another—one of the largest and most complete mammoth skeletons ever found.

Even more astounding, Overstreet also found stone tools and cut marks on the bones, offering archaeologists a rare glimpse into the brief period when humans and mammoths crossed paths. The mammoth had been butchered, its skeleton disarticulated and stacked in a pile. The skull’s soft ­palate had been broken, apparently in an effort to extract the nutrient-rich brain tissue. “We were able to demonstrate that people were mucking about with prehistoric elephants 12,500 years ago on the southeastern Wisconsin landscape,” Overstreet says. “That’s over 1,000 years before anyone was supposedly even in the New World.”

After spending years in study and archaeological storage, the Hebior mammoth is now back in the hands of its rightful owner—and up for sale to the highest bidder. “I have four grandkids who are ready for college,” says Hebior. “It’s hard to know how much they’re worth—I’ve heard anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000, though, and I have the tools also.” Hebior is already entertaining a bid from a nearby museum but says, “I might try eBay if that doesn’t work out.”

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