We enthusiastically welcome the Columbian mammoth as South Carolina’s official state fossil and the latest in a very long line of state symbols.
Despite an impassioned lobbying campaign by 8-year-old Olivia McConnell of Lake City, the prehistoric bones almost didn’t make the cut. Olivia, who reportedly wants to become an Egyptologist, began bugging lawmakers to adopt the Columbian mammoth as the state fossil after finding out that South Carolina was among only seven states without a state fossil.
Her research showed that the Columbian mammoth would be the perfect candidate for that honor. Slaves dug up fossilized mammoth teeth on a South Carolina plantation in 1725, and they are believed to be among the first identified vertebrate fossils in North America.
Olivia’s proposal passed easily in the House. But creationists in the Senate almost sank the bill with demands that it include language declaring that mammoths were “created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field,” as depicted in the Bible’s book of Genesis.
In addition, some curmudgeons said the state had enough designated symbols already. They wanted to enact a symbol moratorium.
Ultimately, though, the two amendments were tossed out and a majority of senators were won over. A letter-writing campaign by Olivia’s class at Carolina Academy might have been the tipping point. Not many lawmakers can resist such a powerful lobbying group.
On May 16, Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law, making the mammoth the 51st official state symbol.
Granted, that’s a lot of symbols, and we doubt that even the most dedicated students of state minutiae could name some of the more obscure ones. The well known ones are easy: State bird? Carolina wren. State flower? Yellow jessamine. State dance? The shag. State hospitality drink? Sweet tea (you could have guessed that one).
But did you know that the state insect is the Carolina mantid? That the state shell is the lettered olive? That the state gemstone is the amethyst?
We could never, in good conscience, jump aboard the bandwagon for a moratorium on state symbols. After all, this newspaper championed the successful efforts of Tom Stanford in 2006 to designate boiled peanuts as the state’s official snack food.
Stanford, at the time a recent graduate of Winthrop University, had hatched the idea along with other members of a campus political club of elevating boiled peanuts to their now-vaunted position. Each year, the club tossed around ideas for the state Legislature to consider, and the official snack campaign was born.
Stanford sent the idea to 35 state lawmakers and then-Gov. Mark Sanford. He also convinced state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, to sponsor the bill.
Simrill said at the time that the only opposition he could foresee might come from the pork rind lobby. Ultimately, though, the bill breezed through both houses.
We think Olivia McConnell’s mammoth fossil is a worthy addition to the list of official state things. Even worthier, perhaps, than the state tartan (the Carolina tartan, duh!).
We’re also glad that Olivia didn’t get discouraged and give up on her quest. Maybe she was inspired by the state motto, “Dum spiro spero,” or “While I breathe, I hope.”
Or maybe she just thought this campaign would look good on future college applications as she pursues a career in Egyptology.