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Spring 2014

12 Jun

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 Design
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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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.

-Janis Treworgy

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Mammoth PowerPoint, Spring 2014

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Spring 2007

28 Jun

The Mammoth News

Spring 2007, Volume 14

Lab Work

This term we made great progress in the lab and on the skull block, which is still in the Science Center garage. We worked on a number of bones and made the following progress:

  • Left femur – finished cleaning and consolidating it (it was nearly completed in the fall); made a storage jacket for it
  • Right femur – removed field jacket, removed matrix, cleaned, and consolidated both sides; made both storage jackets (each one is for half of the both) for it
  • Several small bones (rib pieces, small vertebra, possible foot bone) – removed field jackets, removed matrix, cleaned, and consolidated them
  • Large block of 5-6 vertebrae – removed field jacket, removed matrix, cleaned, and consolidated vertebrae, which included the axis, two cervical, and two thoracic vertebrae; some cleaning remains to be done in the fall

Skull Block

We continued to prepare the block to be turned over so that we can work on what was (while buried) the underside. We removed the right tibia from under the left tusk. They were in contact with each other and there was some damage to each as we separated them. The tibia is in the lab ready to be worked on. We removed the rest of the matrix beneath the tusks and tusk sockets (alveola) and trimmed as much as we could from around the skull without going under it. Then we added wet toilet paper around the exposed part of the tusks and all of the skull – it took a couple of days and about a couple dozen rolls of toilet paper; this paper protects the skeletal elements from direct contact with the plaster. Next we wrapped the tusks and tusk sockets in plaster burlap; we wrapped the skull in a thin layer of plaster gauze. Then we sprayed expandable foam all over the skull, allowing time between layers for the foam to set up and dry. The purpose of the foam is to help stabilize the skull without adding much weight.



During the winter, we participated in the Saturday Scholars Program. About 700 gifted high school students from several adjacent counties visited Principia College over two Saturdays to see and learn about our mammoth project and our solar car project. Janis Treworgy, Rachel Lindstrom, and Randi Frazier gave the tours.
During this spring term we hosted about 200 visitors including cub scouts, parents, alumni, geology students from Meramec Community College, Principia’s preschool, 4th graders from Shipman, the Godfrey Lion’s Club, and the Main Street Methodist Church. Students in the mammoth class gave most of these tours of both the lab and the skull block in the garage.


Janis Treworgy gave talks for several groups this winter and spring:

  • Cub Scouts Blue and Gold Banquet, Town & Country, MO
  • Jersey County Soil and Water Conservation District Annual Meeting
  • Jerseyville Rotary Club Weekly Meeting
  • Principia College – Dean’s Colloquium
  • St. Louis Science Center

This year about 1600 people have either visited the site or attended a talk by Janis.

Scientific Paper

I am attaching a copy of the paper we published about our mammoth in a peer-reviewed journal, Quaternary International, published by Elsevier. Quaternary is the time period covering the last two million years, from the ice age to the present. Here is the reference:

Mammoth (Mammuthus sp.) excavation on a college campus in Western Illinois, USA, by Janis D. Treworgy, Jeffrey J. Saunders, and David A. Grimley, Quaternary International (2006), doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2006.08.001

-Janis Treworgy

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Summer 2002

28 Aug

Independent Course

Two students, Rich Judkins and James Aimonetti, did an independent course with Janis Treworgy during the summer to continue digging. They, along with fellow football buddy, Josh Steele, constructed a shelter over the pit under the supervision of Principia Facilities staff. Our shelter, dubbed “Benny’s Bone Hut,” has made our site management so much easier and we can now work in the rain!

The students also hand-augered a 25-foot deep hole in the pit floor to test the soil material. Information from this hole will help us date our mammoth. We have been able to mark key horizons already, and we hope to find microfossils in the samples.

Our goal for the summer was to remove the skull with tusks and teeth as one large block to work on it more carefully in the lab. As we were digging down around the block, we encountered bones! These bones are scattered on three sides of the skull block, with ribs on all three sides. We have been able to identify the humerus (arm bone between the shoulder and elbow), the patella (knee cap), and a vertebra. The patella is the only piece we were able to completely dig out and remove. There is plenty of work ahead of us. We did not get the skull block out this summer!

During the summer, we hosted several hundred alumni and other Principia friends at the dig site during the Alumni Reunion and Summer Session. It was great to see the enthusiasm you all expressed for this exciting project! We hope to see you back next summer!

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Spring 2002

28 Jun

Excavation Begins

In the Spring of 2002, a geology class started to excavate the site of the mammoth tooth find. Janis Treworgy, Chair of the Geology Department, taught the first part of the course, providing students with some basic geologic concepts. Nancy Golmon, visiting faculty member, managed the site and facilitated the dig. She had students compile a booklet on mammoths, present a poster at the annual campus Science Poster Extravaganza, and give an oral presentation to the campus community. We also brought in some experts to teach us about woolly mammoths, vertebrate paleontologic digs, and loess stratigraphy (geologic history).

On April 4th, 2002 as the Principia Facilities team was opening the dig site for the class with a backhoe, they uncovered part of a woolly mammoth’s tusk. It was very exciting for everyone to see! The class started digging with great optimism. On May 1st there was a lot of excitement as two students working after class (a common scene) uncovered a mammoth tooth. On May 5th a second tooth was found adjacent to the other one and a second tusk was now in sight. With much of the first tusk now exposed, we could see that the pieces were in anatomical position (not broken apart and scattered) and that we had an inverted skull with the cranium still buried.

Jeff Saunders, our expert from the Illinois State Museum, announced that we had a “bonanza”! He advised us on how to proceed with our finds. Some bone material was found adjacent to the teeth, and it appeared to be part of the tusk socket, which confirmed that it was the upper jaw of the mammoth.

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