An eight-year-old paleontology enthusiast has triumphed over anti-evolution politicians. Her proposal to designate the Columbian mammoth as the official state fossil of South Carolina has been signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley.
The story began innocently enough: Earlier this year, Olivia McConnell—a third-grader who wants to be an Egyptologist—learned that South Carolina was one of only ten states that didn't have an official state fossil. She suggested that the legislature remedy the situation by bestowing the honor upon the Columbian mammoth. McConnell decided the mammoth was the appropriate choice after she did some research and learned that slaves on a plantation had dug up fossilized teeth of the extinct mammal in 1725. They are thought to be among the first identified vertebrate fossils in North America.
House Bill 4482 was easily passed by the House, and it was endorsed by the Senate Committee on Judiciary. But, when the bill came to a floor vote in late March, it faced resistance from some state senators. The most vocal opponent was Kevin L. Bryant (R-District 3), who said he'd be willing to compromise if the Senate tacked on an amendment designating the King James Bible's version of Genesis 1:24-25—which describes the sixth day of creation—as the official state passage from an ancient historical text. When that didn't work out, he reworded the amendment so that the phrase, "as created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field," would be added after each mention of the word "mammoth."
The Greenville News reported:
Bryant said he thinks his latest amendment will pass muster as a logical extension of the bill because, "Since we're dealing with the fossil of the woolly mammoth then this amendment would deal with the beginning of the woolly mammoth."
"The courts have upheld using Old Testament scripture because it doesn't point to a single religion," he said. "If I used text from the New Testament, if somebody challenged it in court you might lose on those grounds."
The amendment didn't pass muster and the bill was finally signed into law without any creationist caveats.
As for Olivia McConnell, she says that she might write a book about the experience. (Yeah, this kid is ambitious.) She also wants to make T-shirts featuring the fossil that ask, "Can you dig it?"