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Spring 2008

28 Jun

The Mammoth News

Spring 2008, Volume 16

The Skull Block and Its Hidden Treasures

This spring term we uncovered a large portion of the top side of the skull, the side that was down in the field, and found several intriguing features. After uncovering most of the top surface, we discovered that the skull is relatively complete but collapsed, probably due to compaction after it had been turned upside down some 17,500 radiocarbon years ago. Compaction would have occurred early as deterioration of bone began, probably after it was buried by the wind-blown silt.

We have also exposed on the skull the right cheek bone, fragile and complex bones in the roof area of the mouth, the attachment area for the trunk, and the two ends of the tusks within the skull where the tusks form and grow. The left tusk has remnants of the tusk socket (alveola) attached, but it appears that the alveola had broken and pieces had shifted prior to burial. This suggests that the left tusk may have rotated in the socket due to its own weight as muscle tissue deteriorated. The alveola on the right tusk appears to be more intact. However, we have not yet completely excavated either alveola.

In the top of the skull we have found a hole or conical shaped indentation (about 5 cm across) that possibly was caused by impact from a tusk of another male mammoth. We have yet to completely prepare this part of the skull and get an expert opinion on the hole, but this idea is intriguing – fighting mammoths! This would explain Benny’s demise. Males fought annually, but generally not fatally, for mating privileges. If this hypothesis is confirmed, then we need to make a case for changing Principia’s mascot to a mammoth – the Fighting Mammoths!

We have also enlarged our Pleistocene fauna finds to include a gray wolf – Canis lupus – and possibly another rabbit! Just above the skull, which would have been beneath the skull when they were buried, we uncovered two bones that we knew right away were not mammoth bones. We sent the bones to the Illinois State Museum where Dr. Jeff Saunders’ colleague, Dr. Chris Widga, identified the larger one as part of the lower leg bone (tibia) of a gray wolf. The smaller bone was part of the second smaller lower leg bone (fibula). Perhaps the wolf died while scavenging the mammoth carcass, but before the skull block had been turned over by, perhaps, another mammoth passing by. It is also possible that this wolf was part of a pack of wolves that was bringing down our mammoth, and it was killed by a blow from one of Benny’s tusks or legs. We also found a few small teeth that are currently being identified – possibly another rabbit.

We uncovered the tusk tips for the first time this term and discovered that they are both complete, coming to a tapered end. Careful excavating and repair work were needed on both tusks, but they are looking beautiful now! A small rib fragment was found against the left tusk. Much more of the tusks remain to be prepared in the fall.

Lab Work

This term in the lab we prepared a number of small bones and continued work on some long bones making the following progress:

The small bones that were prepared included one rib piece about 35 cm long, some bones from the hands (metacarpals), an isolated end section from a long bone, several unknown small bones or bone pieces, and the atlas (first neck vertebra behind the skull). Students sawed off the plaster field jackets, removed matrix, cleaned, and consolidated these bones with butvar.

Right tibia – The side of the tibia that had been exposed before burial and in contact with the left tusk was prepared. This side shows more weathering than the other side and has damage where it was against the tusk.

Right ulna and radius – Preparation of one side of these articulated bones was nearly completed by Rachel Lindstrom over the winter of this year as she was preparing to measure Benny’s long bones for her senior capstone project. Students finished preparing it this spring.

Senior Capstone Project – What Species Is He?

Rachel Lindstrom chose to measure the long bones (leg bones) of our mammoth and compare them to comparable measurements of mammoths identified as Mammuthus primigenius (woolly mammoth) and Mammuthus jeffersonii (Jefferson’s mammoth). Based on teeth measurements made and overall characteristics noted by Jeff Saunders, we think Benny belongs to the latter species. Recognizing the fact that Benny is only one individual and may not represent the average size for his species, Rachel found that his long bone lengths are closer to those of a Jefferson’s mammoth than a woolly mammoth. A Jefferson’s mammoth was larger than a woolly mammoth, and, according to Jeff Saunders, its habitat was open woodland (spruce) in the Great Lakes region of North America.

Dr. David Grimley of the Illinois State Geological Survey notes that terrestrial gastropods (snails), typical of boreal woodlands, and occasional spruce wood have been found in the Peoria Silt (a loess deposit) in uplands and sloping areas adjacent to the floodplains of the Mississippi River in the St. Louis Metro East region (e.g. near Collinsville). The Peoria Silt is the unit that entombed Benny. Early in our project we sifted the Peoria Silt as it was excavated, but found that it is too leached of carbonates to have preserved snails. Based on previous studies of gastropods and ostracodes in the region (Leonard and Frye, 1960; Grimley et al., 2001; Curry and Delorme, 2003), it is envisioned that the Principia campus area would have been an open woodland environment (or parkland-type area), well suited for a Jefferson’s mammoth. During the time of Benny (~17,500 radiocarbon years ago), borealtype woodlands likely occurred in hilly areas along the bluffs, protected ravines and small stream courses, whereas the broad Mississippi-Missouri Valley below (the American Bottoms) more likely consisted of grassland and wetland type vegetation in a shifting braided river environment. More open grasslands may also have occurred in the flatter plains to the north and east of Principia interspersed with areas of woodlands. Climatic reconstructions for the St. Louis region based on ostracode fossils suggest a mean annual temperature about 10 degrees Celcius cooler than today during the last glacial maximum (Curry and Delorme, 2003), with a modern analog occurring in the boreal forests or parkland areas of central or south-central Canada.

Outreach

Visitors

During this term we hosted about 160 visitors including six area school groups ranging from preschool to high school and a few adult groups. We hosted one 5th grade class for a tour and activities that included making plaster casts of mammoth teeth. My students participated in all of our tours as guides explaining what we do in the field and lab and what we have learned about mammoths.

Local News

Channel 4 (KMOV/CBS) News in St. Louis returned May 20th to do a follow-up story on what we had found in the skull. They again shot some footage during the day and returned that night with crew and a satellite dish to do the story live from our Science Center garage where the skull block resides.

Talks

Janis Treworgy gave three talks this winter to about 240 people for the following groups:

  • Jerseyville Historical Society Annual Meeting
  • Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District Annual Meeting
  • Illinois State Museum’s Paul Mickey Lecture Series in Archeology and Natural Sciences

-Janis Treworgy

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Fall 2007

28 Nov

The Mammoth News

Fall 2007, Volume 15

The big news this term is that we got the skull block secured and turned over so that we can clean the underside. This was a major undertaking that we had been contemplating and preparing for since last fall. After consulting various experts who have built and moved displays of large skeletons in museums, we developed a plan that worked. Paul Countryman, Exhibits Production Chief with the Illinois State Museum, came up with the design of the metal frame and worked with our Facilities team who built the frame. My students and I secured the block to the frame by tying the tusks and skull to the frame with plaster-impregnated burlap strips. The Facilities team engineered the method for turning it over and performed the task. It worked beautifully!

Alton’s newspaper, The Telegraph, covered the story and gave us a nice front-page article the next day. The next day Channel 4 (CBS) News in St. Louis picked up the story and came to campus for an interview for the 10 o’clock news. They returned that night with crew and a satellite dish to do the story live from our Science Center garage where the skull block rests.

Lab Work

This term we worked on a number of bones and made the following progress:

  • Right femur – finished making the storage jacket for it.
  • Several small bones (rib pieces, a possible part of a fibula, a thoracic vertebra, a wrist bone) – removed field jackets, removed matrix, cleaned, and consolidated them.
  • Large block of 5-6 vertebrae – finished cleaning and consolidating the exposed side of a cluster of vertebrae that included the axis, two cervical and two thoracic vertebrae; started building storage jackets so that they could be turned over and cleaned on the other side.
  • Right tibia – removed field jacket, removed matrix, cleaned and consolidated the underside; found a long rib section (~ 2 ft) and a short rib section on the underside of the tibia; these were separated and prepared; a storage jacket was built; the tibia was turned over and the rest of the field jacket removed; this side still needs to be prepared.
  • Right ulna – removed field jacket, removed much of the matrix and began to clean and consolidate the underside of the bone; several other bones were encountered that remain to be fully excavated and identified.

Outreach

Visitors

During this term we hosted about 160 visitors including school groups, adult groups, and families from the area. We hosted Principia’s 4th grade classes for a tour and activities that included making plaster casts of mammoth teeth. We collaborated with the St. Louis Science Center in hosting families on campus to tour the lab and excavation site, to learn how we do the excavating and bone preparation, to learn about mammoths, and to make plaster casts of mammoth teeth. My students participated in all of our tours as guides explaining what we do in the field and lab and what we have learned about mammoths.

Talks

Janis Treworgy gave a seminar on our mammoth project this fall to the Illinois State Geological Survey, her former employer.

Dr. Jeff Saunders of the Illinois State Museum gave a talk on mammoths in the Great Lakes area, co-authored by Janis Treworgy and others, at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists. Janis attended the conference and enjoyed interacting with others who also work with fossil vertebrates – excavating them and preparing them in the lab. She also had the opportunity to meet some people she had been consulting with by phone and/or email.

-Janis Treworgy

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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.

Outreach

Visitors

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.

Talks

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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Fall 2006

28 Nov

The Mammoth News

Fall 2006, Volume 13

Lab Work

This term we made great progress in the lab and on the skull block, which is still in the Science Center garage. In the lab students finished preparing (cleaning and consolidating) both kneecaps (patellae) and the left upper arm bone (humerus), all tedious tasks requiring lots of patience and careful work. Then we built the storage jacket for the humerus, complete with support legs.

We also finished removing the jacket from the right shoulder blade (scapula), and a couple of students spent their term removing matrix (dirt) from the bone and consolidating it. This turned out to be a harder job than expected because the bone was so deteriorated that there were holes in the bone an inch in diameter in several places. The bone is now clean and well consolidated.

We turned over the left femur at the beginning of the term and removed the rest of its field jacket. Students worked on preparing this side. A bit more work remains to be done.

In the garage, another crew worked on the skull block. Our goal was to finish reducing the size of the block so that we could consider flipping it over perhaps in the spring. The rest of the matrix around the skull was removed and the bone consolidated. Several ribs that continue under the skull block and that had been partially jacketed were removed (the bones had to be cut) and their plaster jackets completed.

The big task was to remove the right upper leg bone (femur) from the block. First we had to separate the femur from the right tusk; it was a happy day when we could see light between them and not have the tusk fall apart. We also had to separate the other end of the femur from the lower leg bone (tibia) that lies partially under the left tusk. Once this was complete, the femur ends were plaster jacketed and the femur removed to the lab. Our plan was to remove the tibia as well, but as we dug around the other end of the tibia, we discovered another bone – perhaps the other lower leg bone (fibula)? – beneath and in contact with the tibia. So we are leaving the tibia in the skull block and will work on removing it after the block has been turned over.

Two students worked on the design of the cribbing to be built up around the block in preparation for turning the block over. Materials were purchased and initial preparations begun.

Optical Stimulated Luminescence Date

Last spring two samples of the loess matrix entombing the mammoth were collected by Dr. David Grimley of the Illinois State Geological Survey. Samples were ten feet apart and directly above the ancient soil (paleosol) on which the bones have been found. This loess should have been deposited shortly after the mammoth’s demise so as to preserve the bones as well as they have been preserved.
These loess samples were dated by Dr. Paul Hanson in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln using optically stimulated luminescence. The luminescence age tells us when the samples were last exposed to daylight. For this reason, the samples were not exposed to light until light was applied in the lab, at which point energy accumulated in crystal lattices of minerals during burial was released and an age determined.
The dates on our two samples were 1600 years apart, which is within the standard error for this method, and averaged at 17,300 +/-1800 radiocarbon years. This date corresponds well with our date of 17,500 radiocarbon years using the mammoth’s stratigraphic position within the Peoria loess and is close to the radiocarbon age determination on poorly preserved collagen from the tooth dentine of 17,810 +/- 4300 radiocarbon years. So we are now more confident in stating that our mammoth lived about 17,500 radiocarbon years ago.

Outreach

Visitors

During this term we hosted two Cub Scout troops, the Principia 4th graders, and 4th graders from Wilson School also in the St. Louis area; students in the mammoth class gave these tours of both the lab and the skull block in the garage. Janis gave additional tours to parents of new students in the pre-fall and to attendees of the Hill Prairie Conference, hosted by the Biology and Natural Resources Department on campus. Visitors totaled 250 for the term.

Talk

Janis gave a talk at Washington University in St. Louis to the Eastern Missouri Society of Paleontology.

Scientific Paper

Janis has published a paper 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 2006

28 Aug

The Mammoth News

Summer 2006, Volume 12

Lab Work

Summer work was confined to the lab. Jeff Saunders graciously helped me build a plaster storage jacket for the right scapula that has been on exhibit for a year.

During Summer Session I had two one-week classes that worked on several projects. They helped turn the scapula over and remove the field jacket from the other side. We are now ready to remove the PT (Paleontologic Tissue = toilet paper) and clean the surface that was exposed in the field – a project for the fall class.

Others worked on removing half of the field jacket and then matrix from four small bones – two knee caps (patellae), an unidentified bone, and a section of a rib. More work remains on these bones for my fall class.

The third project area was continuing to clean matrix from the left upper arm bone (humerus). This is a tedious task, but the results are worth it.

Outreach

Visitors

This summer we had about 270 visitors attend formal tours of the lab and garage where the skull block is, and many other visitors on campus who dropped by to view the lab on their own. These included some of the 800 Principia alumni on campus for their reunion, those attending the Summer Session, college students attending the archeology summer field program of the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville, and a few local visitors.

Manuscript

Janis Treworgy and co-authors Jeff Saunders (Illinois State Museum) and David Grimley (Illinois State Geological Survey) revised and resubmitted a manuscript on the Principia mammoth; the manuscript has been accepted for publication in the Quaternary International peer-reviewed journal.

The Fighting Mammoths

Those of you who have been to the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln and seen the archived collections of mammoth bones with me on a class field trip may remember the “fighting mammoths” who died a tragic death with their tusks permanently locked together. These locked tusks and attached skulls, together with bones of the rest of the two male mammoths are now on display in the Trailside Museum in Ft. Robinson, western Nebraska, near where they were discovered in 1962. Not only is this an unusual death, but it is even more unlikely to have found such a unique pair of specimens. Until earlier this month, these tusks had been stored in their plaster field jackets on pallets in the collections room in Lincoln waiting for funding to prepare an exhibit for this small museum.

-Janis Treworgy

 
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Spring 2006

28 Jun

The Mammoth News

Spring 2006, Volume 11

Lab Work

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.

Tusks

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.

Skull

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.

Other Bones

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.

Planning

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!

Outreach

Visitors

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.

Talks

Janis gave a talk on the project to the Principia Club in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina in April.

-Janis Treworgy

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Fall 2005

28 Nov

The Mammoth News

Fall 2005, Volume 10

Lab Work

We now have an extended lab – it’s the Science Center garage where our skull block resides. The focus this term was to unwrap and begin to remove matrix from this block of loess that we knew contained two tusks, two teeth from the upper jaw, the right femur, and presumably the skull. From the curve of the tusks and the position of the teeth, we know that this skeletal block is upside down. The tusks, teeth, and skull are still connected as they were in life (articulated) so we want to keep them together as we proceed.

We have temporarily discontinued work at the excavation site while we work on the skull block. There are currently no bones exposed at the site, however, we are fairly certain that more bones are out there. This was indicated by a ground penetrating radar survey performed in Spring 2004. We have found 120 bones or bone fragments to date, but that’s only half of the mammoth’s bones.

In the first few days of the term, the class unwrapped the skull block, removing the straps, wood frames, Styrofoam, and the upper part of the plaster jacket. Then they started scraping away the matrix (loess) using trowels. We wet the matrix with water or denatured alcohol to reduce the vibration as we scraped. As new bone or tusk was exposed each day, it was impregnated with a consolidant, Butvar, to harden the bone both on the inside and the surface.

Tusks

As we exposed the tusks, the exterior held together fairly well except in a few areas. We exposed the right tusk down to its tip and found that it tapers, which indicates that it was not broken. While some mammoths at age 41 might have longer tusks (up to 8 feet), it is not uncommon to find them shorter. This is because they used their tusks, thus causing them to wear down.

Skull

As we exposed the skull, we were pleased with its condition. The skull bone is fairly solid, although the honeycomb structure of the interior, which is quite fragile, is exposed in places. The skull appears to be somewhat compressed and at an angle to vertical. The entire skull block lists to the mammoth’s left a bit. We have yet to get down to the paleosol, at which point we will see how compacted the skull is.

Other Bones

We have exposed the right femur (upper leg bone) that lies lengthwise between the two tusks with one end (proximal) lying under the right tusk. It is in good condition. We discovered and exposed most of the right tibia adjacent to the femur and between the tusks; one end (proximal) extends under the left tusk. In addition we found two rib fragments, another rib that was an extension of one previously removed from the pit, and two unidentified ends of bones that have not been fully exposed.

Radiocarbon Dating

We have been attempting to get radiocarbon dates on the teeth and on the soil material (paleosol) on which the bones lie. We just learned that we must resample the soil material because there was insufficient carbon in the first sample. This will have to wait until spring.

A tooth fragment from the lower jaw was submitted for radiocarbon dating to the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. Kena Fox-Dobbs, graduate student of Paul Koch, Geology Professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, prepared the samples. We are grateful to a Principia parent who underwrote some of the expenses for this work and to these labs that contributed time and supplies to the project as well.

An initial sample of tooth dentine was analyzed and yielded a date of 17,810 +/- 4300 radiocarbon years before present. This corresponds well to our estimate of 17,500 years that was based on stratigraphic control (the mammoth’s position in the Peoria Silt it is buried in), but it has a large margin of error. A second sample of tooth enamel was analyzed and yielded a date of 15,380 +/- 60 radiocarbon years before present. It is known that enamel is more susceptible to alteration by weathering than the dentine, which is on the interior of the tooth, and therefore an enamel date is less reliable and likely to be younger than reality.

At this point, the best we can say is that our mammoth is about 17,500 radiocarbon years old, based primarily on the stratigraphic context and supported, weakly, by the dentine date.

Outreach

Visitors

We had about 125 visitors during the term, including Girl Scouts, Upper School Physics students, Fox River Country Day School students, the American Association of University Women-Jerseyville Chapter, and many local visitors.

Talks

Janis Treworgy gave a presentation on our mammoth project at the Second International Congress of “World of Elephants” held in Hot Springs, South Dakota, home of The Mammoth Site where 55 mammoths have been found in an ancient sinkhole. Many of the same mammoth experts who were at the mammoth conference in the Yukon in 2003 were present at this conference. There was a wealth of information shared both formally and informally. A number of attendees commented on the high quality of our project. A state university in Washington is modeling a dig site they are running after our project, using our web page as a prime resource.

Janis gave a talk on the project to the Principia Club in Houston in October. Janis also gave a talk to the Jerseyville Chapter of the American Association of University Women.

Jeff Saunders and Janis were honored guests at the Quarterly Meeting of the Calhoun County Historical Society for their work in helping to find information about and locate the excavated bones of a mammoth that was only partially excavated in 1940 near Belleview, Calhoun County.

-Janis Treworgy

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Summer 2005

28 Aug

The Mammoth News

Summer 2005, Volume 9

Field Work

The focus this summer was to remove the skull block – the block of dirt (matrix) containing the skull (buried), upper teeth, and tusks (partially buried) – and we were successful!!! The block weighs about three to four tons and is roughly the size and shape of a baby grand piano. These skeletal elements had been exposed in the pit since the excavation began in Spring 2002. Our goal in the summer of 2002 had been to remove the block, but instead we started to find bones, which was good. It has taken three years to remove all of the bones that we kept finding adjacent to the skull block. Finally by the end of the Spring term 2005, we had an area cleared of bones to allow us to drag out the skull block. Little did the students know that Summer of 2002 when they wrote on the plaster jackets of the tusks this Biblical phrase “Let patience have her perfect work” that it would be three years before we got them out!

The students in this recent Spring class had completed the pedestaling of the skull block, digging down a few feet below bone level and removing literally tons of dirt by the bucket load. They also began to tunnel under the block.

In June a team of three people – Janis and her husband, Colin Treworgy, and a Principia College student, Christian Mayes – tunneled under, wrapped, and secured the skull block to remove it from the pit in order to complete bone preparation work indoors. The team also built cribbing under the block to drag the block out of the pit on. It took about 250 person hours to get the job done, and the weather was unusually hot for June – >90 degrees and humid.

Early in the month we dug small exploratory tunnels to find the LENGTH OF THE TUSKS. To our surprise they were both only about 6.5 feet long! We were expecting them to be about 8 feet long. This was actually great news because it meant that the skull block would not be much lower at the tusk end, and this made for much easier preparation for removing the block. What we won’t know until we work on the tusks indoors is whether the tusks are broken or not, and if they are broken when they were broken – just prior to death or much earlier in his life? Stay tuned!

On June 30th, we completed the preparation work. The block was now firmly strapped between a triangular beam on top and the upper tier of beams in a three-tiered cribbing that it rested on. The four-ton block had not moved vertically or horizontally from its original position in this process.

On July 26th, our Facilities crew graded a ramp into the pit by removing part of the west wall down to a depth a few feet above bone level. The next day, July 27th, a crew of about six Facilities staff, including the crew that found the original tooth (Benny White, now retired, also came to watch the show), spent the day skillfully engineering the removal of the block by dragging it up greased bridge timbers using chains and a backhoe and then front-end loader. There were cheers from the crew, spectators, and press, when the block reached the surface. The crew then dragged the block on the timbers along the road to the Science Center. Using a fork attachment on the front-end loader they pushed it into the garage. Then they used the smaller Bobcat to push it into its final resting place – at least for a while. This is where future classes will work on removing the plaster jacket and matrix (dirt) and prepare the fragile skull bones, teeth, and tusks. Other bones that we know are in the block include the full right femur (upper leg bone) and rib pieces. Who knows what else we may find!

The Biology and Natural Resources (BNR) Department has graciously provided “Benny” with a temporary home in their garage space – mammoth thanks to BNR!!!

Outreach

We had about 130 visitors during June and July including the St. Louis Chapter of the Association of Engineering Geologists; students from the Litchfield Gifted Academy, the Center for American Archeology in Kampsville, IL, and the Abundant Life Community Church Youth Group; adult students from Principia’s Summer Session program, and staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Telegraph in Alton. Both papers covered us on the front page of their respective Alton papers.

-Janis Treworgy

Associated Content

 
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Spring 2005

28 Jun

The Mammoth News

Winter and Spring 2005, Volume 8

Lab Work

Chrissy Wakeling, my teaching assistant, continued working in the lab during the winter and basically finished cleaning the right scapula (shoulder blade) and the left humerus (upper arm bone). At the end of the term, Jeff Saunders of the Illinois State Museum, Chrissy and I made the storage jacket for the humerus.

Field Work

Prior to the term, the Facilities Department extended the shelter over our excavation another sixteen feet to the west, the area that we think still has mammoth bones. This area will likely be the focus of the fall and future classes.

On the first day of Spring term, the class uncovered Benny and found him to be in good condition after his third winter of being buried by insulation and Styrofoam peanuts.

One of our goals this term was to take down a small section of the west wall so that we had a straight wall across the pit. This involved pick-axe work until we got near the bone level. Once there, we switched to scraping the dirt with trowels keeping a sharp eye out for bone, but finding a lot of decayed roots that look like bone at first glance. Eventually we did find two small, not well preserved bones – possibly a cervical (neck) vertebra and a podial (foot or hand bone). This was exciting and gave us a chance to pedestal and plaster jacket bone! By the eighth week we had completely leveled this area.

Our BIG GOAL the year is to get the skull block out of the ground and into the lab. The skull block includes the two tusks, the two upper teeth, and the skull that is still buried. We estimate that the block, with the enclosing dirt (loess) and the plaster jacket that we will add, could weigh several tons (one cubic yard of loess weighs about 1.5 tons, according to the engineering geologists who visited the site early this summer). We have 3-4 cubic yards of loess and bones.

The class dug a one-yard wide trench down (about a yard) around the skull block. The bottom of the trench is five feet below the top of the tusks. That is about 7 cubic yards of loess – or at least 10 tons. That’s how many tons of dirt we carried out of the pit by the bucket load this term! (Students: “I think we should get PE credit for this class!”)

At the end of the term, we started to tunnel under the skull itself in preparation for plaster jacketing that area. We have this great new tool – an 8″ long auger that is on a rod 25″ long that fits in an electric drill. It is designed for digging holes in soil to plant bulbs in, but it is very effective in tunneling under mammoth bones!

The rest of the skull block work is going to take place this summer because of the need for uninterrupted blocks of time, especially as staff from the Facilities Department get involved.

Lab Work

While our emphasis has been on the field work this term, we did get some lab work done as well. Stacey Wallace, my teaching assistant, supervised students in the lab. We finished cleaning and consolidating the one side of the left femur (upper leg bone), a slow and tedious job, and then we made the storage jacket for it – this was the first class to get to participate in this activity. We also worked on removing the second half of the field jacket from the left humerus and starting to clean the bone.

Grain-Size Analysis

We had a special project going on this term as well. Two students who are geology minors sampled a vertical section of the loess from 50 cm below the level (paleosol) on which the bones are found to 110 cm above the bone surface. They then did a grain-size analysis of the samples. The procedure is quite detailed and took most of the term. We are still analyzing the results. We are grateful to Dr. David Grimley of the Illinois State Geological Survey for guiding us in this project. Our hope is to see if there is an increase in grain size directly above the paleosol in the interval that represents the sediment that buried Benny. This might suggest that there were stronger winds during that period of time. If there is a correlation, stronger winds could explain (1) his demise (buried food source, breathing difficulties, … cf. to the Dust Bowl era) and (2) the rapid burial that would help explain the fairly good bone preservation for burial by wind-blown sediment.

Outreach

Visitors

During the spring term we hosted tours for nearly 1200 people, including 500 one Sunday when the college had a campus-wide Open House for the surrounding communities. The other 700 were mostly students from area schools as well as some parents and Prin Club officers.

-Janis Treworgy

Associated Content

 
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Winter 2005

10 Jan

The Mammoth News

Winter 2005, Volume 8
Special Edition

Local News

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch deemed a local paleontologic project worthy of front-page news coverage!

Friday, January 7th, the Principia mammoth made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with a full-color photo above the fold line! This is great coverage for a paleontologic project! Since then, I have had a call from the Chicago Tribune and several email requests from readers to come visit the site. I have also been asked to be on a radio talk show in Alton on the mammoth.

The front-page article from Friday, January 7, 2005 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was called “A Mammoth Opportunity.” It was active this morning, but may not be for long.

 
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