Archive for June, 2004

Spring 2004

28 Jun

The Mammoth News

Spring 2004, Volume 5



During Spring Break (second half of March) I had the opportunity to speak to the Principia Clubs in Orange County, California, and in Manasota, Florida, about our mammoth excavation. We greatly appreciate the enthusiastic support and interest among our friends and alumni. Thank you!

I gave a talk at the annual conference of the Central Section of the Geological Society of America on how our mammoth project benefits K-16 programs and other groups in our community and beyond. My co-authors were two teachers from Ohio with whom I have been collaborating.


I gave a workshop called “Woolly Mammoth Comes Alive for K-12 Teachers” to twenty-two K-12 teachers on our college campus on April 3, 2004. This was sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT). I gave the participants a tour of our excavation and our bone preparation lab, a brief history of our excavation, and then we learned about mammoths, their evolutionary history, the Ice Age, radiocarbon dating, and some basics about fossils and rock layers. The teachers made casts of different kinds of teeth – woolly mammoth, Columbian mammoth, mastodon, African elephant – and learned how much great information teeth give us about an animal. Two of my former colleagues at the Illinois State Geological Survey helped present some of the geologic information and two teachers from Ohio shared activities they have developed for their classes to teach these topics.

Since then several teachers have brought their classes for tours. One teacher from a small school district applied for and received a $500 grant from NAGT to support her proposed unit on paleontology. She’ll be bringing her class for a tour in the fall.

Field Work

We had a productive Spring term finding new bones and working in the lab for the first time. The class of 10 students uncovered Benny in early April in a two-hour class period and we were ready to start digging the next day. This is now the second winter that Benny has spent buried under Styrofoam peanuts and insulation for the winter, and he seems to preserve well that way.

The next task was to move the west wall farther west. This was done with pick-axes and students developed muscles as they picked and shoveled dirt and hauled bucket-loads up to the dirt pile. After about a week they put away the big tools and started scraping the floor level and working down millimeter at a time using our masonry trowels. It wasn’t long before new bone was found in one area. It turned out to be the right ulna (lower arm bone) and right radius (other lower arm bone) still connected to each other, or articulated, as in life position. By the end of the quarter we had nearly pedestaled these two bones. Jacketing and removing these bones will be finished this summer. We found several ribs or rib pieces of varying lengths around the ulna. Some of these were pedestaled, plaster jacketed, and removed. Several small bones were found that may be from the feet and/or hands (podials).

Ground-Penetrating Radar

Also this term, Dr. Daniel Joyce from the Kenosha Public Museum in Wisconsin came down with his ground-penetrating radar (GPR) equipment and ran surveys around the periphery of our excavation. We are awaiting results. Preliminary results on the west side indicated that there may be more bones to the west as far as four meters from our current wall. This is the direction in which we have been finding new bones. Extending the excavation farther west will require extending our shelter as well, so we want to be fairly sure there is more to find.

I met Dan at the 3rd International Mammoth Conference in the Yukon last year. He mentioned that he was purchasing this GPR equipment, and I invited him to our site if he was interested in testing his equipment on loess. He was interested and very generous – he did the work gratis; we just covered some of his travel expenses. Thank you, Dan!

Lab Work

This term for the first time I had the class work in the bone preparation lab as well. I had two experienced students who were able to help supervise the group in the lab and field. This allowed half the class to work in the lab and half in the field each day. Every student spent roughly equal time in the lab and in the field. During the quarter in the lab, the class removed most of the matrix (dirt/loess) from what had been the underside of the left femur. We found a number of broken bones, probably pieces of rib, and a couple of longer rib pieces and a small vertebra. These were all mapped and photographed before removed, consolidated, and labeled. The femur is in fairly good condition.



My class had the opportunity to give a number of tours this term to various groups, mostly classes from different area schools, but also Principia parents here for visiting weekend, a Girl Scout troop, and some Principia Trustee Council members and their friends. We hosted about 300 visitors at the site this spring. My students became great tour guides! Too bad they have to move on.
We also have had professionals visit us. Dr. Jeff Saunders of the Illinois State Museum continues to come frequently to “cheer the class on” and discuss questions that arise on various topics. He has been a great support in our project. Dr. Dave Grimley has come every term to discuss the time period in which our mammoth lived and the nature of the sediment in which he is buried and what it might tell us about his demise.

-Janis Treworgy

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