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!!!


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

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