The Mammoth News
Spring 2014, Volume 26
Mammoth Site Commemoration
A year ago on May 1st we celebrated the closing of the mammoth excavation with a Mammoth Site Commemoration that took place at the former excavation site and was followed by a reception in the Science Center Atrium where Dining Services featured mammoth cookies. We had brief remarks on the educational value of this project to the college and the community by President Jonathan Palmer, Academic Dean Scott Schneberger, Mammoth Project Director Janis Treworgy, and former Mammoth class student Eric Lines. We also acknowledged the contributions of the many people who have contributed in some way to the project:
- Principia’s Facilities staff that has supported the project in many ways, including:
- Discovered the original tooth found in 1999
- Built the shelter over the excavation in 2002
- Built the temporary lab in Watson to house the bones and provided a work space in 2003
- Removed the upper section of loess each time we extended the excavation
- Undertaken the move of the skull block each of the three times we have needed
to do that
- Percival Robertson who started the Geology Department in the 1930s and later endowed the department with funds the income from which has supported various stages of this project
- Dr. Jeff Saunders, my mentor, and his colleagues at the Illinois State Museum who have played an advisory role in this project from the beginning and hosted us many times for class field trips
As part of the ceremony, we unveiled a bench with a commemorative plaque, constructed by our Facilities carpenter Mark Rhodes; the bench now marks the site of the excavation. Many staff, including our Facilities staff, students, and community members, including the press, attended the event along with the family of Percival Robertson, and my four colleagues from the Illinois State Museum. (Photos 1-12)
Displaying our Mammoth
This spring we hired Chase Studio, a top designer and builder of natural history displays in museums and other facilities throughout the world, to build a display to feature our mammoth. We had been working with them for a couple of years to come up with a design that would best meet our needs. We settled on displaying the skull block with many of the other bones in the atrium of the Science Center on top of the concrete blocks that have been there since the building was built. Meanwhile one of my students, Clint White, and I worked 6-10 hours each week cataloguing and preparing the bones for display.
In early May we built the first and major element of the display – the “excavation” that displays the skull and tusks along with leg bones oriented generally in anatomical position and vertebrae and ribs, all emerging from the loess, the sediment they were found in, that is made of plaster-of-Paris. Glass walls will be constructed around this display this summer. In the fall we will add signage or didactic rails around the display. A floor-to-ceiling mural illustrating the natural setting – vegetation and mammoths – of the area during the Ice Age (Pleistocene) will cover the wall opposite the display. A large flat-screen monitor will be mounted under the stairs to enable us to display photos and videos of the excavation and lab work over the 12-year course of the project.
The Science Center architect, John Guenther, had intended the concrete block (photos 14-15) in the atrium of the building to represent the limestone bluffs that bound the Mississippi River below our campus. On the floor of the atrium is carved the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers along with footprints of many of the native animals of the area (photos 16-17). He had intended to have examples of those species displayed on the concrete “bluffs,” but that had not happened. Now we have a prehistoric native species – Mammuthus jeffersonii – displayed there, and it looks like the space was designed just for it!
Building The Desplay
During the week of finals, leading up to graduation this spring, Terry Chase brought one other staff member and enlisted the willing help of a dozen geology minors and me to build the first stage of the display – the “excavation” (photos 18-19). There were 2-4 students working at any one time. Terry is as interested in education as in his design and construction work, so he readily engaged each student with instructions and trust to do the job during their shift. What a great experience it was for us to work on this and be mentored by one of the best in the field!
The Construction Process
I’ve included a series of photos showing the various steps we took in building the display.
- Facilities staff Randy Arnold engineered the moving of the skull block into the atrium from the garage after removing the non-load-bearing wall between them. Students helped lift it onto the concrete block. (Photos 20-22)
- Next Terry Chase’s assistant, Curt, built a 2×4 framework around the skull block while Principia’s facility staff Jamie Carter welded nice steel supports for the tusks. Terry and student Clint White attached pre-shaped steel mesh to the framework. (Photos 23-24)
- Then we placed the bones that were set in their plaster jackets on the steel mesh, pushing to reposition the mesh around the bones. (Photo 25)
- Then we added aluminum foil to cover the plaster jackets. We also put petroleum jelly along the edge of the bones next to the foil. (Photos 26)
- The next stage was the messy stage – draping burlap strips dipped in tinted plaster-of- Paris over the steel mesh and the areas with foil right up to the bones. The petroleum jelly kept the plaster from sticking to the bones. (Photos 27-33)
- You can see the finished display with the river etched in the floor. Glass walls will go up next around the display. (Photos 34-35)
n the last year and a half we have hosted over 200 visitors to the site, including school groups and adult groups. In this same period, Janis has given talks on mammoths to over 200 people as the speaker for the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Biology Department Colloquium Series, the Principia College Dean’s Colloquium Series, and the St. Louis Science Center’s Friday Night at the Museum program.