The Mammoth News
Spring 2006, Volume 11
This Spring term marks the beginning of our fifth year working on the mammoth project. You may ask, “What takes you so long?” If you have an eager Fourth Grader who wants to work on it when she/he comes to Principia College, you may be saying, “Slow down!” Whatever your point of view, doing a project like this slowly is better than doing it quickly. The bones benefit from being worked on slowly and carefully. Most of it would fall apart if we tried to rush the work.
This term the new class of students continued to remove matrix (loess = wind-blown silt) from the skull block in the Science Center garage. As usual, after cleaning each small area of bone or tusk, we consolidate the area with a chemical called Butvar.
We started to tunnel under the right upper leg bone (femur) and rejacketed the shaft part of the bone with no matrix left on top or bottom. The ends are still imbedded in the matrix and still need to be carefully separated from adjacent tusk and lower leg bone (tibia).
We tunneled under parts of the tusks too and rejacketed them to give them support. We are beginning to separate them from the bones they are resting on. This is a process best done slowly – removing a little matrix at a time and consolidating the bone or tusk as it is exposed.
The palate of the mouth between the two upper molars was exposed this term. A significant section of the left side of the mammoth’s skull was exposed as well. The right side has been exposed as far as it can be on this side.
We found several more small rib pieces (up to a foot or more in length) and identified and removed a kneecap (patella) and a possible bone end (epiphysis) of a limb bone.
Radiocarbon and Luminescence Dating
This term Dr. David Grimley from the Illinois State Geological Survey took a special sample of the ancient soil (paleosol) that the bones of our mammoth rest upon in order to try to get a radiocarbon date of the sample. The sample will be analyzed by Hong Wang, director of their Radiocarbon Lab at the Illinois State Geological Survey. The mammoth should be no older than the age of the paleosol.
Additionally, two samples were taken immediately above the paleosol (at the level of the mammoth), for a luminescence age date. These samples could not be exposed to light because the method to be used, optical stimulated luminescence, is based on the energy accumulated in crystal lattices of minerals during burial. This energy is released upon application of heat or light (which can be applied in the lab in order to determine the age). The luminescence age tells us when the sample was last exposed to daylight.
After we separate and remove the leg bones and finish exposing the skull on this side of the block, we will rejacket the entire skull and tusks, stabilizing them with wood, and turn it over to work on the under side where the “face” is – next year!
We had about 220 visitors during the term, including a senior citizen’s education program from Alton (Oasis Program), a geology class from the St. Louis Community College-Meramec, Principia’s preschool class, home schoolers (elementary and middle school) from Jersey County, a large group of Ambassadors from Jerseyville representing the Chamber of Commerce, Principia College student parents, and several groups of individuals who had read about us in their local paper.
Janis gave a talk on the project to the Principia Club in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina in April.