The Mammoth News
Spring 2003, Volume 2
Before the Spring 2003 term began, a temporary lab for the mammoth project was built in the Interpretive Center – the old Watson adjacent to the new Science Center. This large room is ideal for the mammoth lab because plans were already underway to convert the space into a science museum. With large windows along the side, people can watch our progress as we bring the mammoth bones inside in their plaster jackets (“biscuits”) and begin to remove the jackets and clean and harden the bones.
The first thing we did this spring at the excavation site was to remove all the insulation that we had buried the mammoth in for the winter. We used a shop vacuum to remove the styrofoam peanuts that covered the bones. The whole process only took us two hours, much less time than if we had buried the bones in dirt. The bones appeared to have been protected from freezing and thawing, our main goal.
Next the students widened the pit by one meter to the west and to the north to further expose several large bones that had been partially exposed in the fall. During the term we fully exposed the right scapula (shoulder blade), the left femur (upper leg bone), and the left humerus (upper arm or foreleg bone). We successfully pedestalled, plaster jacketed, and removed to the lab our first large bones the right scapula and the right humerus. We also discovered and only partially exposed the left scapula and possibly the right femur.
As a sneak preview about this summer, I have two students, Kristin Lauria and Joe Van Riper, working with me. Also biology faculty member, Chrissy McAllistar, is joining us this summer. Jeff Saunders continues to visit us regularly and work with us. We will be offering the mammoth dig and lab work as a Summer Session class. The class is full and has a waiting list!
In the first three weeks we have started to remove the plaster jackets from both the right scapula and the right humerus that were brought into the lab at the end of spring term. We have removed much of the matrix from the underside of the humerus and have exposed most of the bone. It requires a lot of patience, but the lab is air conditioned! We are finding that it is just as much fun to work on preparing the bones in the lab as it was to excavate the bones in the field.
In the field we have pedestalled and plaster jacketed the left femur and brought it into the lab too. Next we will work on removing the left humerus and some ribs from the site. There are still many other discovered bones to remove and undiscovered bones to find, like the pelvis and feet and hand bones.
Early in the quarter, the class went on a 3-day field trip to Elephant Hall in the University of Nebraska’s State Museum where we saw many skeletons of mammoths and their ancestors on display. Then we went on to The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota, where they have found 52 mammoths in a 26,000 year-old sinkhole.
Over spring break, I gave a talk at the Annual Meeting of the Central Section of the Geological Society of America in Kansas City, Missouri. She talked about Principia’s mammoth project and its use as a teaching opportunity. Many of her colleagues would love to have such a project on their campus!
During spring term, I took three students (Rich Judkins, Lindsay Morse, Ramona Van Riper) to the 3rd International Mammoth Conference in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada. Here they presented a paper, in the format of a poster, on our mammoth project. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Jeff Saunders and Dr. David Grimley. Dr. Saunders accompanied us on the trip. The poster presentation was well received. We had a wonderful time hearing from and meeting the many specialists at the conference, collecting Ice Age mammal bones on the field trip to the placer gold mines, and enjoying the ambiance of Dawson City.