South Carolina Gets State Fossil Despite Creationist Pushback

Drawing of a woolly mammoth. These beasts were bigger than mastodons and and curved rather than straight tusks. They died off around 10,000 years ago, and scientists aren t yet sure if climate change was to blame -- as the Ice Age ended -- or if human hun
Drawing of a woolly mammoth. These beasts were bigger than mastodons and had curved rather than straight tusks. Most died off around 10,000 years ago. (Image credit: Stephan Shuster Lab, Penn State)

Thanks to the efforts of a history-obsessed third-grader, South Carolina now has a state fossil — the Columbian mammoth.

Opposition from creationist state legislators had stalled the initiative, but Gov. Nikki Haley made the state fossil official with her signature on Friday (May 16).

"That was history of South Carolina that would've been lost if I hadn't done something about it," 8-year-old Olivia McConnell told the Associated Press this week.

In letters to her local representatives earlier this year, Olivia had asked that the mammoth be made the state fossil, highlighting the beast's importance to South Carolina history. Teeth from the species, which went extinct some 12,500 years ago, were dug up by slaves in a South Carolina swamp in 1725; these specimens were among the first vertebrate fossils discovered in North America.

A bill to make Olivia's request official was first introduced in January to the state House, where it was passed and sent to the state Senate. Legislators in the state Senate, however, tried to tweak the bill. One version was amended to read as follows:

"The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the 'Columbian Mammoth,' which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field."

The version of the bill that eventually passed through the legislature was free of any such biblical language.

A majority of U.S. states have their own official fossil — many of which are far older than the Columbian mammoth. Triceratops, which roamed Earth 68 million years ago, is the mascot for South Dakota, the 150-million-year-old Stegosaurus represents Colorado, and Eurypterus remipes, a 400-million-year-old relative of the extinct sea scorpion, is the state fossil of New York.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.