Roger Marolt: Roger This
October 29, 2010
Mammoth skeletons are cool. But, priceless? Hardly. In Snowmass Village, one of these prehistoric carcasses is not worth the dirt it was excavated from.
You don’t believe me? Get down and dirty, and Google it yourself. I found teeth on the Internet for between $60 and $500 each. Ribs are about $50 a piece. A hip joint might set you back $300. A good humerus or ulna bone can fetch up to $900. For a museum quality 71-inch polished, mounted tusk suitable for living room display, they are asking $13,995.
But, who wants to buy all the pieces of a mammoth and then try to assemble them in the garage? What are the chances that all the parts fit? What happens if you get it together and then find an extra bone sitting on the newspaper spread out below the project? What kind of glue are you supposed to use?
I don’t think these are insurmountable problems for the handy do-it-yourselfer, but they are valid concerns for the average Joe looking to surprise the wife with an anniversary gift she won’t forget in 10,000 years. It’s tough putting together one of these Pleistocene surprises at night after she’s asleep; keeping it a secret until that special day when you and a few neighbor friends wheel it in sideways through the French doors in the living room and set it up in the corner to surprise her over a stout cup of coffee.
With Internet assembly instructions being vague and certified paleontologists with their own tools not cheap, what options are left? Well, I’m glad you asked. It turns out that you can buy an 80 percent real bone, fully assembled 15-foot mammoth skeleton from Geodecor Co. out of Arizona for just $185,000 (and I bet in this economy they would come down from that).
OK, so they’re not giving them away, but it is not exactly priceless either. And, as I said earlier, at this price the one recently found up at the new and improved Zeigler pond above Snowmass Village truly isn’t worth the dirt it was buried under.
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There was an article in the Los Angeles Times not so terribly long ago, at least not in geologic time, that told of bone hunters carving things like picture frames, chess pieces, and pendants out of these calcified mammoth parts to add value to the raw material. It is estimated that about 50 tons of mammoth bones are hauled out of Russia each year alone. The market price for these bones has reportedly dropped to about $100 per pound, or less than half the price of a Kobe beef steak.
The point of this is to demonstrate that, while the recent mammoth bones discovered near The Town Formerly Known as Snowmass at Aspen are worth a bunch to us living practically in the ancient peat bog where they were found, they are not worth much to anyone else; the Denver Museum of Nature and Science excepted.
My fear here is that after the skeleton is shipped off to Denver and we get our exact plaster of Paris replica in return, all we’ll have to show for it is a unique piece of chipped-up playground equipment sitting out in the plaza of Base Village to keep kids occupied with while their parents finish their beers at Sneaky’s Tavern.
Have you heard of our 13-foot-long ancient Xiphanctinus fish fossil? I didn’t think so. It was dug up in 1967 in Snowmass, hauled off to the museum in the city and that was that. Adios, auf wiedersehen, see you on the field trip!
Is that the fate we want for our mammoth? Is this the highest and best use of our bones? I say “no.” There has to be a way to make this thing pay better than that!
Here’s what I’m thinking: soup!
That’s right, mammoth hoopla soup. Have you ever tried it? Well, neither has anyone else. That’s what makes it worth a fortune! Do the math: I figure the bones could be used to produce about 2,000 gallons of broth, which would make about 32,000 bowls of soup. At $500 per bowl that makes the Snowmass carcass worth about $16 million, or nearly a hundred times what it can fetch sold piecemeal as geological gimcrack.
You don’t think we can get $500 per bowl on novelty alone? Well, research exists suggesting that a certain bacteria that produced an anti-aging vaccine might have lived on the mammoth that could have helped mice age more slowly. No, we don’t have to prove that soup will make you younger. We only have to imply it. Yes, at roughly the same cost as one Botox treatment, lots of people around here will be clamoring for a bowl or two … or three … or … you get the point.
What’s more, I’ve had a few broths in my day. Many times after dinner we’d fish the bone out of the pot and give it to the dog. I don’t recall that the bone was softened up or destroyed in the process of making beef barley or even split pea soups. If anything, they looked a little whiter, a little cleaner; far more appealing to have lying around the yard than some meaty old brown thing dripping with marrow.
Do you see where I’m going with this? After we make a few thousand gallons of broth, freezing most of it for later sales, we might still be able to fish the bones out of the cooking pots and ship them off to that outfit in Arizona to sell as art or furniture. Anyway, the point is that there are other possibilities that could benefit the community more than just shipping the old bones off to a museum in Denver.
“Waiter, there’s a hair in my soup!”
“Yeah, it’s from the last Ice Age.”