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Mammoth Find Slows Project

Friday, February 21, 2014

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At first, the crews thought it was a pipe or a tree root. But it looked so much bigger—mammoth, you might say—and so much older.

A little more digging, and the discovery became clear: a fossilized mammoth tusk believed to be between 20,000 and 60,000 years old.

The find Feb. 11 put a fast hold on construction of a new apartment complex in Seattle. Construction crews who were excavating the site in the South Lake Union neighborhood discovered the tusk about seven feet below the development, according to an announcement by the museum notified of the find.

Tusk uncovered
© Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Paleontologists from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle safely removed the mammoth tusk from the construction site Friday (Feb. 14) and transported it to the museum for further examination.

Paleontologists from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture said they safely removed the fossil from the site Feb. 14 and transported it to the museum for further examination.

The discovery has caused construction delays, “but the scientific and education benefits of this discovery clearly outweigh the costs and delay,” Scott Koppelman, senior vice president of developer AMLI Residential, said in a statement.

“This is an exciting discovery.”

Waterlogged Mammoth Tusk

The tusk recovered from the site was 8.5 feet long—the largest and most complete mammoth tusk found in Seattle to date. Since the tusk was found in wet conditions, it will require a careful, long-term conservation program, the museum reported.

In its current state, the fossil would be the consistency of a crayon if scratched, Dr. Christian Sidor, the museum's Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, told a local radio station.

Based on the fossil's anatomy and on previous discoveries in the area, the museum believes it is likely a tusk from a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), which was designated the Washington State Fossil in 1998.

Columbian Mammoth
Wolfman SF / Wikimedia Commons

Based on the fossil's anatomy and on other area discoveries, the museum believes it is a tusk from a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). This Columbian mammoth skeleton is displayed at the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles.

Burke paleontologists estimate that the tusk is at least 20,000 years old and could be up to 60,000 years old. Carbon dating the specimen will provide a definitive age, the museum said.

No other fossils were found at the construction site.

Construction Site-Turned-Dig

Before the artifact's removal from the future home of the 118-unit apartment building, the paleontologists said they removed dirt from around the waterlogged fossil using brushes, shovels and trowels.

lifting the tusk
© Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

The discovery took place at the future home of a 118-unit apartment complex developed by AMLI Residential. The developer called the find "exciting."

They then placed layers of plaster-soaked burlap bandages on the tusk. The plaster helped to protect the tusk during removal, according to the museum.

During the drying process, which could take at least 12 months, Burke conservators will slowly remove the plaster and repair any damage to the tusk.

The museum calls the discovery “a rare opportunity to directly study Seattle’s ancient natural history and to understand the paleoenvironmental conditions present in Seattle during the Ice Age."

The paleontologists also collected sediment around the tusk to eventually reconstruct the environment from the time the pre-historic beast roamed.


Tagged categories: Business management; Commercial Construction; Commercial contractors; Construction; Developers

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