Two Republican creationists block South Carolina’s adoption of the Wooly Mammoth as the state fossil

March 30, 2014 • 7:51 am

Nothing surprises me any more when it involves Republicans and evolution (or science, or abortion, or immigration, or health care—the list is a long one). Yet this story, bizarre as it is, shows how truly benighted the members of that party are when it comes to science—and pandering to creationists.

From Americans Against the Tea Party comes a sad report: sad because it involves a little girl’s attempt to put some science into the state of South Carolina—an attempt stymied by two damn Republican politicians. The report:

Earlier this year eight-year-old Olivia McConnell wrote her state representatives to suggest that since South Carolina doesn’t currently have a state fossil, it should be given one! Olivia decided that she needed a legitimate reason to suggest this besides liking fossils, so she came up with three:

1. One of the first discoveries of a vertebrae [sic] fossil in North America was on an S.C. plantation when slaves dug up wooly mammoth teeth from a swamp in 1725.
2. All but seven states have an official state fossil.
3. “Fossils tell us about our past.”

She sent the letter to Representative Robert Ridgeway (D) and Sen. Kevin Johnson (D), asking them to sponsor a bill officially making the woolly mammoth the official state fossil.

“We can’t just say we need a state fossil because I like fossils,” the third grader told The State. “That wouldn’t make sense.” She ended the letter “Please work on this for me” before signing, “Your friend, Olivia.”

Both Ridgeway and Johnson—note that they’re Democrats—agreed to sponsor two bills that made the mammoth the state fossil. As Ridgeway noted, “Why not? It can’t hurt anything. But the benefit to this is to the children and young people of South Carolina, letting them realize that they do have a say-so in what happens in South Carolina and, No. 2, it gives them experience and information about the governmental process and legislative process in South Carolina.”

Well said! And here’s Ridgeway and Johnson’s bill, an amendment to the existing law about the state emblems of South Carolina:

Whereas, giant mammoths used to roam South Carolina; and

Whereas, scientists have identified the fossils of about six hundred and fifty species of vertebrates in South Carolina to date; and

Whereas, it has been recognized that fossilized mammoth teeth were discovered in a swamp in South Carolina in 1725; and

Whereas, this discovery has been credited as the first scientific identification of a North American vertebrate fossil. Now, therefore,

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:

SECTION 1. Article 9, Chapter 1, Title 1 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:

“Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina.

SECTION 2. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.

The consequences were predictable. While the bill passed the state House with overwhelming support, the damn Republicans then got into the act, led by state Senator Mike Fair (my emphasis):

Fair, who has compared the President to Osama Bin Laden, helped to block funding for a rape crisis center, called climate change a hoax, and blocked evolution from the state’s science standards, saying “I don’t have a problem with teaching theories. I don’t think it should be taught as fact,” stood up for  Biblical representation in the state fossil–after all, what’s science without Jesus?

Bryant proposed an amendment to the bill to include a passage from Genesis explaining the Biblical creation of life–because why not?

I think it’s a good idea to designate the mammoth as the state fossil, I don’t have a problem with that. I just felt like it’d be a good thing to acknowledge the creator of the fossils,” Bryant told the Daily Beast.

That of course would kill the bill because mentioning Genesis would violate the American Constitution.

Then the Lieutenant Governor, also a Republican, derailed the amendment by also injecting some religion:

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell [JAC: I presume he’s no relation to Olivia] blocked the proposed amendment because it introduced a new subject. He has since amended the amendment to describe the Columbian Mammoth as “created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field.”

The article ends on a down note:

In response to the Lt. Governor’s ruling Senator Mike Fair placed an objection to the bill, which has been put  on hold until they can take what was a simple thing that would benefit children across South Carolina and make one little girl very happy–and figure out how to please the Creationists.

I predict that the mammoth is dead in the water, not only physically extinct, but symbolically extinct as well. Boo to South Carolina, its creationists and their political flacks!

A side note: a week ago McConnell was named President of the College of Charleston, where I spoke on evolution a while back and encountered some pushback from creationists (and from biologists like Rob Dillon who were pro-religion). To be fair, the College students had some objections to McConnell’s appointment. McConnell is also infamous for supporting the flying of the Confederate flag, which you can read about on his Wikipedia page.

Wikipedia gives a list of U.S. state fossils (do you know yours?), and here’s a map showing the 8 states that lack them. Surprisingly, they’re not all in the South, but of course Indiana (which is rapidly becoming the Alabama of the North) doesn’t have one, either. And Hawaii needs one; perhaps they could get a honeycreeper subfossil. Oddly, Vermont has the beluga whale, something that’s not even extinct (and I doubt is present there as a fossil)!




Here’s the stymied Olivia,with the photograph courtesy of her family and published by Fox Carolina:


And Olivia has learned her lesson:


CORRECTION:  Reader John M. noted that the Americans against the Tea Party article, which I quoted above, was wrong on one quote. As John noted (my emphasis),

In [this] article, you quote the aattp article saying that “He [meaning McConnell] has since amended the amendment to describe the Columbian Mammoth as “created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field.”

The Daily Beast article, which seems to be the source of the aattp article, claims to have spoken to Bryant and suggests that Bryant and not McConnell made the amendment including “as created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field.”. This also makes more sense in the context of the aattp article as that article only criticises the two pictured Senators (Bryant and Fair) and does not criticise McConnell. If the DB is accurate, McConnell actually objected to the religious nonsense (one can at least hope).

The reader is right, and I stand corrected.


h/t: Don B.

80 thoughts on “Two Republican creationists block South Carolina’s adoption of the Wooly Mammoth as the state fossil

  1. The obvious next step, to me at least, would be to push the SC Dem lawmakers to amend the section regarding state emblems to include state Senator Mike Fair, Sen Kevin Bryant, and Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the South Carolina State fossils.

    1. BTW, it was cathartic to leave a comment on the fine Sen Bryant’s website. The comments there are a rather pleasant read, too. Probably would be good to capture some screens, as I have a feeling the whole thread will get deep-sixed when the idiot and/or his idiot staffers return from their weekend fishing trips.

    2. I was waiting to hear that their objection to a state fossil was that there are no such things as fossils, since the Earth is only 6,000 yo, but they came close.

      1. It’s probably never too early to learn that some of your elders are ignorant and/or stupid, and that they may even be elected to public office despite that.

    1. Pretty much what I was going to say, Olivia did indeed get “experience and information about the governmental process and legislative process in South Carolina.”

  2. This is one of those things that if I didn’t read about it here first, I would have thought it was a satire from the Onion or some clever satirist. It is really really that extreme, that pathetic, that sickening, no, it couldn’t possibly be for real!

    Yet it is for real!

    I think this goes even beyond Poe’s Law. We need a new term for this kind of phenomenon, for this kind of extreme political stupidity. It is now totally and completely impossible to satirize Republicans!

  3. As a current resident of said state, I can tell you that this is incredibly disheartening. Not only had the good Sen. Fair squashed a young girl’s wonderful idea, he is also working to have the term “natural selection” stricken from the new high school biology standards. His reasons? Well, because while we can observe microevolution, according to Fair, there is absolutely no evidence of macroevolution. I guess I can understand that, given that his mind, and his eyes, are so tightly closed. Oh, how I can’t wait to get out of this backwater hellhole. You can’t imagine how isolated I feel as an atheist in this state. As an aside, Dr. Dillon is fighting Sen. Fair’s efforts, despite his religiosity (which makes me scratch my head – I had Dr. D for an honors biology class years ago while at C of C.) Also, the students at C of C have put up one helluva fight against McConnell as president. For sure, the college is regressing when one looks at past presidents. Sad, very sad…

    1. As another current resident of said state, and an athiest, I can only agree with you whole-heartedly! And another sad part of this whole story is not just the interjection of more myth into a myth-worshipping state populace, the Columbian Mammoth wasn’t even a particularly good choice for “state fossil.” Glen McConnel and his ilk might have better served as that icon of SC…

  4. Unsurprisingly, Lt. Governor McConnell is also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He has also fought long and hard to fly the Confederate flag over the Statehouse.

    You really couldn’t make up a more backwards group of people. Let’s just hope it ends when this generation passes.

        1. I noticed on Bryant’s official bio page that he “has been a constant voice for limited government, lower taxes, and supporting traditional family values.” Hmmm, I wonder where he falls on the gay marriage issue? And “traditional family”? That is something that has been gone for quite some time, as evidenced by the number of students I have that come from single-parent or ‘blended’ (the new politically -correct term) families. I would like to think that one day folks like Fair and Bryant would figure these things out, but the cynical side of me knows that is about as possible as the second coming of Christ!

          1. There never were any “traditional family values”.

            There are values, and every individual, some of which will be members of families, will hold different values. Of course there will be significant overlap as we are all humans and are also a social species, but my role as my daughter’s father does not include dictating what all her values will be.

            “Traditional family values” is only a smokescreen behind which idiots try to hide their homophobia and misogyny.

    1. My reply there:

      Seconding the comments here that this legislative pettiness makes South Carolina looked moronic in the eyes of the educated.

      On another site discussing this issue, I saw that one of the Republicans opposing the measure, and trying to substitute religion for science, stated that there was no fossil evidence for macroevolution. This is simply false; I recommend that he, or anyone who thinks that way, read Donald Prothero’s book, “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters”.

      A shorter read, just on the fossil history of whales, is Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “Hooking Leviathan by Its Past” available at

      Yours for better education,

      Mark Joseph
      Instructor in Developmental Mathematics
      California State University of Northridge

      1. Brilliant. On a related note, looks like the State fossil of Colorado is the Stegosaurus, discovered just west of Denver in 1877, according to the wiki. I presume the settlers must’ve driven them to extinction or something…

        1. Mr. Muth:

          You only *think* you are joking. My main bête noire on the GoComics site–where I attempt to inject science, atheism, and rationality fairly frequently–actually thinks that some artwork in Cambodia (see, for example, here) is proof that humans and stegosaurs coexisted! I had never seen that one before, so I just dismissed it as more of his lunacy, but later I found out that stegosaurs lived in Colorado. Ha ha!

  5. For what it’s worth, if you live outside of SC, please consider contacting the SC Chamber of Commerce ( and let them know that you will not be visiting and spending your money in a state that is so detached from reality. One thing that does ring true with these b*stards is the mighty green. Don’t know what impact, ultimately, it would have, but couldn’t hurt.

  6. Just to be pedantic – the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and Columbian mammoth (M. columbi) are distinct species, not synonyms. There seems to be some confusion about which one is meant here. In South Carolina I would guess that M. columbi is more likely to have occurred, though M. primigenius might also have been there during colder periods.

    1. Some of the existing state fossils are pretty unconcerned with specificity. The fossil of Arizona is “petrified wood”!

            1. Goldwater was to the left of most of today’s Democrats. I could actually respect a true modern Goldwater Republican, though I’d still have substantive disagreements. Of course, actual modern Goldwater Republicans are rare as hen’s teeth — not actually nonexistent (one’s running for Arizona Treasurer), but almost might as well be.


  7. What is the Minnesota state fossil supposed to be? Per a webpage kept by the state legislature (found by the expected Google search), Minnesota doesn’t appear to have a state fossil. A public park in St. Paul along the banks of the Mississippi River is a great place to gather trilobite fossils (my family has done so there, on two occasions), so I suppose Minnesota’s state fossil should be whatever kind of trilobite that predominates in that fossil bed.

    1. They should’ve made the giant beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) the State fossil, dammit. It was probably either the Ohio rivalry or the predictable sophomoric snickering that killed that 1988 bill.

      1. According to PZ, he posted on the above story also,

        “I had thought that Minnesota had a state fossil: it was the giant beaver, Castoroides ohioensis. But then I discovered that it wasn’t on the official list of Minnesota State Symbols, but was on the list of proposed symbols. So it never made it into law, although we do have a state photo (it’s awful) and a state muffin (blueberry).”


        1. I just googled it (the state photo, that is). I agree, it’s awful. (Some old geezer praying over his soup).
          An official state photo really sounds like the most inconsequential, irrelevant concept imaginable, unless the photo somehow epitomises the characteristics of the state – which seems unlikely. But then the whole concept of an official state photo sounds like a manufactured marketing opportunity, to me.

          I’ll make an exception for Official State Fossil. Fossils are kinda cool, and could even be official so long as they have some connection with the state.

          1. I’m reminded of, let’s say, “the official toenail clipper (or breath mint, or lip ointment) of the U.S. Olympic Team.” Or, in U.S. college football, “The Tostito Fiesta Bowl” (not simply “Fiesta Bowl” – gotta get that corporate sponsor name in there).

  8. In defense of Vermont, the Beluga skeleton that inspired their choice was found there

    ‘Today the beluga (or “white whale”) is found only in the Arctic Ocean and adjoining seas, but the whale skeleton adopted as Vermont’s state fossil (discovered near Charlotte, Vermont in 1849) lived about 12,500 years ago in the Pleistocene Epoch, when part of the Atlantic extended into Vermont and New York.’


  9. California seems to have grabbed perhaps the coolest fossil, and the only cat on the list (although the triceratops is also pretty good). Plus CA has the banana slug as the state invertebrate. Gotta love it, unlike the idiot politicians.

    1. Yeah, the banana slug is a much cooler invertebrate than the ones in South Carolina who failed to stand up to creationist bullying.

  10. Hey, the state fossil for Alabama is Basilosaurus, which is actually very cool. This is of course the oddly named primitive whale. I wonder how that got through the legislature!

  11. I just felt like it’d be a good thing to acknowledge the creator of the fossils…

    That would be Satan, then.

  12. How about a compromise? Name Behemoth the state fossil of South Carolina, and give a free lifetime pass to Heritage USA in Fort Mill to the first one who finds a fossil of it.

  13. Another illustration of the quagmire of US state politics. With ineffective oversight and seemingly unmotivated voters, politics at the state level is a hotbed of demagogues, charlatans, and extremists, and an easy target for entryist zealots.

  14. Does God get a mention in regard to the state bird? They must be total atheists there in S.C. not to give God credit for their bird! Blasphemers!!!!!!

    Or maybe there’s something in Genesis about God creating Mammoths but not birds. Haven’t read it in a while.

  15. Well, the Columbian Mammoth already belongs to Washington State anyway!!! Tell S.C. to get its own fossil. If they wait a few centuries, maybe that fossil can be Homo sapiens religiosus.

    Come to think of it, I think it’s just Homo religiosus. I’m pretty sure I’m reproductively isolated from them.

    1. Personally, I think it’s pretty lazy of them not to have specified which kind of wood they meant.

        1. I’m sure something could be said about Sun City and Viagra prescriptions, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

  16. So many blissful people in South Carolina — and woefully ignorant!may the fates find them wanting!

  17. Vermont’s treasured whale fossil (yes, a 12-foot beluga), unearthed in 1849 by railroad workers in Charlotte, Vermont, was on display for some time in the Vermont State House and was, according to Jeff Howe, former curator of the Perkins Museum of Geology at the University of Vermont, “one of the most important paleontological finds in New England of the 19th century.” It’s now in the museum at the U. of Vermont.

    See the story:

  18. Regarding the “Common Core” of U.S. national education standards adopted by 45 states (and if I correctly recall initiated by The National Governors Association), South Carolina Governor Nikki Hailey is quoted as saying: “We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children.”

    Well, how special. I’m reminded of my Tennessee upbringing.

    She’s figured out what evokes the herd Pavlovian response. Not that it’s all that hard to do. “Hoi Polloi.” Politics – herd management. Every state is the greatest state in the union, with its own unique version of American Exceptionalism. Amuricuh is eaten up with the tuberculosis of hubris and narcissism.

    I wonder what are U.S. emigration statistics of the last several years.

  19. Wow just another in a long list of how STUPID our SC legislators are. It’s about a freaking fossil!! Maybe she should have gone straight to Gov. Haley. Ol gun totin’ Haley can pass open carrying in a blink of an eye (which just tickled me to death), then she could certainly pass a bill on our state fossil!!!!!

  20. Bryant proposed an amendment […]

    Any relation to the Monkey Trial prosecutor … no, not likely ; different spellings.
    Still a retard though – by the standards of the average sub-normal crustacean. Hard shell ; surprisingly complicated behaviour given the presence of only a few hundred brain cells.

  21. This is crazy. The bill is about getting the Mammoth as the state fossil.

    I see no rhyme or reason to put in the bill on how the Mammoth came into existence whether scientifically nor religously speaking. It would not telling why the Mammoth came to be the state fossil in the first place. What the 8 yr. old says does give a reason to why the Mammoth should be the state fossil and thus that info should be part of the bill.

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