The Mammoth News
Spring 2009, Volume 19
This Spring our class started in the lab working on a large cluster of broken bones that had been adjacent to the skull block in the field (3N-1W). We turned the piece upside down relative to its position in the field, and removed the field jacket from what was now the upper half. This always takes longer than we expect, but once done, we removed the matrix, keeping a level surface as we worked our way down toward the bone that we knew we would find in the lower part of the block. It’s always exciting when each student finds bone in his/her section, which they all did. Everyone worked on this block at some point, and a few students stayed with it all term and helped with the final stages of labeling and preparing the pieces for storage. We found three large pieces that appear to be sections of the left ulna, our first broken limb bone; the question remains as to when it broke – during his life or after his death. We also found three metapodials (foot bones) a couple of wrist bones (?), several rib sections and fragments, and our first caudal vertebra (tail bone).
The class also removed the second half of the field jacket from the right ulna and radius, which are articulated (connected) as in life. We used a dremel and hand saws. The other side had already been prepared, and the bones were resting in a storage jacket we had built to support and protect the bones. The side we worked on this term had been exposed to the elements prior to being buried by the wind-blown silt (loess); it was therefore not as well preserved as the other side. These bones required a lot of patience and meticulous work. After we had cleaned and consolidated the bones and done some repair work, we built a storage jacket with feet for this side of the bones. We always love working with plaster!
We made good progress on the skull block this term. We unjacketed, cleaned, repaired, and consolidated the remaining sections of the tusks leaving about a foot of each one under the support bars still to be prepared. The sections of tusk we worked on are in fairly good condition. The exception is the part of the left tusk that had been in contact with the right tibia. The tibia had been under the tusk when the skull block was upside down, as we found it in the field, and both the tibia and tusk were damaged by being in contact for so many years. We filled in the damaged section of the left tusk with a putty-like material that hardens (Paleo Sculp). The tusks are looking quite majestic. Check the photos to see them. The sides of the skull were cleaned this term as well. We are near the sections cleaned from the other side. We are getting close to finishing our preparation of the skull block!
This term we had a variety of visitors for whom we gave tours including Fifth and Sixth Graders from Fieldon Elementary in Jersey County, Fifth Graders from The Wilson School in St. Louis, Preschoolers from Principia School, the St. Louis Rock and Mineral Society and several small groups, including three visitors from Nepal. Our visitors from Nepal are quite familiar with elephant behavior and were able to confirm that the hole in Benny’s skull could not have been caused by a tusk of another mammoth because the forehead (frontal bone) is too thick, the tusks are not curved correctly to make that type of impact, and elephants (and presumably their close cousins, mammoths) don’t aim to kill when they fight for mating rights. Dr. Jeff Saunders, Dr. Chris Widga, Mona Colburn, and Meredith Mahoney, scientists from the Illinois State Museum, visited us this term and helped us identify some of the pieces of bone we had in the block we’d been working on. We compared bone shapes to of other bones we had as well as to some bones of an African elephant that we have borrowed from the Museum. We love having them visit.