In the Spring of 2002, a geology class started to excavate the site of the mammoth tooth find. Janis Treworgy, Chair of the Geology Department, taught the first part of the course, providing students with some basic geologic concepts. Nancy Golmon, visiting faculty member, managed the site and facilitated the dig. She had students compile a booklet on mammoths, present a poster at the annual campus Science Poster Extravaganza, and give an oral presentation to the campus community. We also brought in some experts to teach us about woolly mammoths, vertebrate paleontologic digs, and loess stratigraphy (geologic history).
On April 4th, 2002 as the Principia Facilities team was opening the dig site for the class with a backhoe, they uncovered part of a woolly mammoth’s tusk. It was very exciting for everyone to see! The class started digging with great optimism. On May 1st there was a lot of excitement as two students working after class (a common scene) uncovered a mammoth tooth. On May 5th a second tooth was found adjacent to the other one and a second tusk was now in sight. With much of the first tusk now exposed, we could see that the pieces were in anatomical position (not broken apart and scattered) and that we had an inverted skull with the cranium still buried.
Jeff Saunders, our expert from the Illinois State Museum, announced that we had a “bonanza”! He advised us on how to proceed with our finds. Some bone material was found adjacent to the teeth, and it appeared to be part of the tusk socket, which confirmed that it was the upper jaw of the mammoth.