The Mammoth News
Fall 2012, Volume 25
Final Lab Work
This term we worked on the last of the bones that we had previously brought in from the field. These included two large clusters of vertebrae, a field jacket with two ribs, and a small rib piece that connects to another rib piece found under the skull. We had sawed through this rib in the field to remove the part that extended beyond the skull block first. The rest of the rib became part of the skull block and was removed from it in the Science Center several years later.
Final Field Work
This fall in the field we had a geotechnology company run a ground-penetrating survey around the perimeter of our excavation pit in an effort to find some bones we had not found yet. The survey results did not strongly indicate that there was bone to be found, but the class made a mammoth attempt to find the missing pieces – the pelvis, the left tibia, the left ulna, to name the big ones. We worked hard, motivated to find the pieces, but as the term went on, motivated also to stay warm. A few of the mornings we started work with air temperatures in the 20s (F), but usually in the 30s. Facilities helped by removing the upper three feet of loess (wind-blown silt) with a Bobcat, while we removed the lower three feet with pickaxes and shovels. Since this was our last term, unless we found more than we could remove, we piled the dirt on the opposite side of the pit, rather than carry it to the surface as in the past; however, we still had to get it to the top of the pile. You’ll be able to see in the photos how big this pile of dirt was at the end of the term.
We found no bones in spite of all our digging, so I have officially closed the excavation. Facilities will be removing the shelter, reusing it to cover some of their used materials. They will fill in the pit (no, it won’t be lined with concrete for a pool, sorry).
We had about 100 visitors come for tours of the excavation site, lab, and skull block. These included A/U Discovery Bound participants, the Principia 4th Grade class, a large group of professional biologists from the area, a biology professor from SIU-Edwardsville and some of his students from his Mammalogy class, as well as walk-ins. I had to turn away several requests due to lack of time on our part.
Outreach continues with this project as people still want to see Benny, our mammoth, and learn about this amazing prehistoric animal and its surroundings. I have a tour lined up in March for the Parkway Schools System Community Schools adult group. The SIU-E Biology Department has invited me to give a talk for their weekly colloquium series on our mammoth this January. Community interest in our project continues.
We took our usual field trip to the Illinois State Museum where Jeff Saunders and Chris Widga show us their collections of mammoth and mastodon bones, as well as other cool fossils and some nice minerals from Illinois. It’s especially fun to see teeth and other skeletal elements of some of the mammoths we read about in class. Then we visit the Changes exhibit at the museum, which puts the Pleistocene (Ice Age) in the perspective of geologic time. Thank you, Jeff and Chris!
With the excavation pit closed and the last bones prepared in the lab, I won’t be teaching the Ice Age Mammoth course anymore. The mammoth project has been a wonderful learning opportunity not only for the Principia College students who took the course, but for students of all ages and others from the area as well as our alumni and friends from around the globe. My students and I regularly gave tours as part of the course. We have hosted over 9000 visitors over the past 11 years!
The next big task is displaying some of the key pieces of the mammoth in the Science Center. Last year I invited bids from a couple of different museum display experts to create and install a professional interpretive display in the Science Center. Our plan is to place this display in the atrium of the building, just outside the newly renovated aviary, and to incorporate into the display the skull block (with the tusks), some of the major bones, and educational information about the mammoth. We are awaiting approval from the College administration to spend the funds for this project, but once approved we expect to begin the installation process.