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South Carolina's Pre-Historic Dilemma

Fossils of the Sixth Day

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land.

– Christina Georgina Rossetti,  Remember (1862)

The news is out!  All it will take for South Carolina to join 47 other states in having an official state fossil is agreement on whether it is important to let people know how old the fossil in question is.  The idea of having a state fossil in South Carolina came from eight-year old Olivia McConnell.

Olivia was dining in a restaurant whose menu included not only food selections but also interesting facts about South Carolina.  She noticed that the state had no state fossil. Olivia sent a letter to two members of the legislature asking them to introduce legislation designating the wooly mammoth as the official state fossil.  She gave the legislators three reasons to designate the wooly mammoth including the fact that one of the first discoveries of a vertebrae fossil in North America was in South Carolina where in 1725 slaves dug up wooly mammoth teeth on a plantation.

Given the tradition of state fossils one might have thought that it would be a no brainer for the South Carolina legislature to designate the wooly mammoth as its state fossil. Lots of states have them. Colorado named the Stegosaurus its state fossil in 1982.  Less than a month ago Kansas designated the flying pteranodon and the sea-roaming tylosaurus as official state fossils. In 1981 by concurrent resolution, rather than legislation, Mississippi designated the prehistoric whale as the state fossil.

Designating the wooly mammoth as South Carolina’s state fossil proved to be a no brainer, but not in the usual sense.  It was a no brainer because two senators of limited capacity but of religious fervor and legislative clout, insisted that if South Carolina were to have an official fossil, the state should at the same time affirm that the wooly mammoth and the other creatures  of the world were created on the sixth day.  Senator Kevin Bryant who, among other things, believes climate change is a “hoax”, wanted the bill amended to include three verses from the Book of Genesis that explain how the wooly mammoth and the rest of us came into existence.

When the bill was first introduced it included recitals that said the “giant mammoths used to roam South Carolina” and its “teeth were discovered in a swamp in South Carolina in 1725 and the wooly mammoth is the “ first scientific identification of a North American vertebrate fossil.”  The statute itself  simply read as follows:  “Section 1-1-691.  The Columbian  Mammoth is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina.”  Senator Kenneth Bryant thought the bill would be even better if it described the other animals that were created along with the wooly mammoth.   Accordingly, he proposed that the following language from the book of Genesis be added to the bill:  “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”  With the addition of that language Senator Bryant, like God viewing creation, viewed the bill designating the wooly mammoth as the state fossil as good.  His colleagues did not agree.  The amendment went nowhere.  Another amendment was offered and accepted by the senate that included the wooly mammoth’s birthday.  That amendment makes it plain that as complex a being as the wooly mammoth may have been, it didn’t take God very long to create it and lest there be any confusion,  it recites that twice.  The amendment reads in its entirety as follows although because of a misplaced quotation mark it probably does not accomplish what its supporters intended:  “Section 1-1-712A.  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.”  (Because of the amendment’s focus on the fact that the wooly mammoth was created on the sixth day presumably the author wanted the official name to include that fact.  The author was better at bible studies than grammar. By placing the quotation mark around “Columbian Mammoth” all the author has created is a redundancy.  God did better when creating the wooly mammoth even though it is no longer with us.

The South Carolina House has refused to go along with the sixth-day business.  Kevin Johnson, one of the senators who sponsored the bill has suggested that if the sixth day language and another more innocuous amendment are rescinded, the wooly mammoth will enjoy all the benefits that come with being an official state fossil.  The wooly mammoth should not yet mention the prospect of its new position in South Carolina to any of its family, however.  Two of its direct descendants in the South Carolina senate may prevent that from happening.

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.