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Mammoth tusk uncovered in downtown Seattle

A mammoth tusk from the ice age was found while construction workers were digging in Seattle’s South Lake Union area Tuesday, Feb. 11.

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SEATTLE — The Burke Museum unveiled the ice-age, 8.5-foot mammoth tusk found by construction workers digging in Seattle’s South Lake Union area, and said the public will get to see the tusk in its plaster casing during “Dino Day” on March 8 and during the following weekends in March.

The museum said that because it was found Feb. 12 in moist, sandy sediments just a couple of blocks from Lake Union, the tusk is waterlogged and very fragile. It can scratch easily, like a scratching a crayon with your fingernail, it said.

In order to protect the fossil — the most complete and largest mammoth tusk ever found in Seattle — the tusk will need to slowly dry out — a process that will take at least 12 months. During that time, it will stay in the plaster cast, which helped protect the tusk when it was moved from the AMLI Residential apartment site on Feb. 14.

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(Photo: Dan Loya/KCPQ-TV)

 

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(Photo: Dan Loya/KCPQ-TV)

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(Photo: Dan Loya/KCPQ-TV)

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(Photo: Dan Loya/KCPQ-TV)

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(Photo: Dan Loya/KCPQ-TV)

SEATTLE — Museum paleontologists watched as a 8 1/2-foot ice age mammoth tusk believed to be at least 20,000 years old was lifted out of a construction site in Seattle Friday and sent off to the Burke Museum for examination and preservation. No other bones or fossils were found, officials said.

“Last night, a team of four Burke Museum paleontologists led by Dr. Christian Sidor, curator of vertebrate paleontology, worked until midnight on the site,” the Burke Museum and AMLI Residential, land owner of the site, said in a statement earlier Friday. “The tusk is 8.5 feet long – the largest and most complete mammoth tusk found in Seattle to-date.

tusk5“Based on its age and location, Burke paleontologists believe the tusk is from a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi, the Washington State Fossil). No other fossils were discovered during the excavation.

“Found in wet conditions, the tusk is waterlogged and will (require) careful long-term conservation at the Burke Museum.”

The tusk was found Tuesday by construction workers digging in Seattle’s South Lake Union. They immediately halted work, and AMLI Residential asked Burke Museum paleontologists to examine it.  After they confirmed it to be the tusk of an ice age mammoth, the owner of the site agreed to let the museum excavate it for closer examination and preservation.

The paleontologists said that at the construction site there was a “marker horizon,” which is a blue-black layer that has a relatively well-understood age. Because the fossil was found about two yards below that marker, Burke paleontologists estimate that the tusk is at least 20,000 years old and could be as old as 60,000 years. Carbon dating the specimen would provide a definitive age.

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(Photo courtesy of AMLI Residential)

Paleontologists placed layers of plaster-soaked burlap bandages on one side of the tusk Thursday and Thursday night. The plaster was to help protect the tusk when it was moved from the site. 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.

Late Friday, the tusk was hoisted from the ground and then placed on a vehicle for transport to the Burke Museum for examination.

SEATTLE — The massive mammoth tusk discovered in downtown Seattle and estimated to be at least 16,000 years old is about to go from a private land to a public museum. The land owners have decided to give the rare find to the Burke Museum.

Crews from the museum started excavating Thursday afternoon.

tusk1So far the tusk is estimated to be about 7 feet long and 500 pounds; it is by far the largest mammoth tusk ever unearthed in the Seattle area.

Curiosity has people flocking to a construction site.

“To have it in the middle of the city it is pretty cool,” Seattle resident Perry Atkins said.

Kids nearby stopped and stared. They yelled “Dig it up, dig it up.”

Construction workers digging at the site of a future apartment complex discovered the mammoth tusk on Tuesday.

“At first, of course, there is always nervousness of a find like this and what impact it might have on the construction project,” said Scott Koppelman of AMLI Residential, the property owner.

Now crews are digging for another reason.

“The benefits of this amazing find to science and education far outweigh the cost of the time delay,” Koppleman said.

tusk 2The museum believes the fossil is likely a tusk from a Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). It appears to be the most intact and largest tusk found in Seattle.

Dr. Christian Sidor, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum, said, “Since the tusk is on private property, it could have ended up in a private collection.  We are very fortunate that AMLI contacted us to remove and care for the tusk.  Their decision to do so provides us and the general public with a great opportunity to learn more about mammoths in this area.”

Sidor said that visible at the construction site is a “marker horizon,” a blue-black layer that has a relatively well-understood age. Because the fossil is located approximately two meters below it, he said, Burke paleontologists estimate that the tusk is at least 16,000 years old, but could be up to 60,000 years old. Carbon dating the specimen would provide a definitive age.

For the first time, paleontologists on Thursday afternoon carefully started excavating and measuring the fossil lodged 30 feet below the surface.

“These things can get 8, 9, 10 feet long,” Sidor said.

He says they won’t have an exact size or age of the tusk until they can see the tip

“It is very rare to get the tusk in the relationship to the lake, in relationship to all the other sediments going on, this became a much bigger picture than a single tusk,” Sidor said.

tuskThey wonder if there could be even more than one tusk. But they’re not holding their breath.

“It would be a tremendous find; I wouldn’t count on it, it`s a rare find,” Sidor said.

Crews plan to put the tusk on a pedestal and cover it up with plaster before they pull it out of the construction pit using a crane.

They expect to lift the fragile piece of history by Friday afternoon.

SEATTLE — It’s a snapshot of history. The mammoth tusk unearthed Tuesday in South Lake Union is a stunning reminder of the ice age in the Pacific Northwest.

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Photo courtesy of Transit Plumbing Inc.

“It’s fantastic, it feels like it happened in my backyard,” resident John Warren said.

Mammoths are prehistoric relatives of modern elephants that stood more than 12 feet tall.

Mastodons also roamed our area thousands of years ago.

Tuesday’s discovery happened 40 feet down in a construction pit on Pontius Avenue near Mercer.

Williams says fossils often cannot stand the test of time.

“When an animal dies, it has to die in the right environment (to be preserved). Then it has to not have someone come and eat it, or not have a flood to wash away the bones,” Williams said.

Williams added that finding the teeth would have made it easier to pinpoint the species.

mammoth1But paleontologists at the Burke Museum have examined the fossil and they are confident that it’s a tusk from a mammoth.

“We find bones that are hundreds of millions of years old — to find something that’s 15,000 years, that’s a blink in geological time,” Williams said.

Williams added that the latest discovery takes him back to 1961, when crews found skeletal remains of an ancient sloth underneath Sea-Tac International Airport.

As for the tusk, the landowner does not have an obligation to give it away, but paleontologists at the Burke Museum are hoping to get their hands on it.

SEATTLE — A mammoth tusk from the ice age was found while construction workers were digging in Seattle’s South Lake Union area Tuesday.

Workers at 528 Pontius Ave. North found the tusk about 1.5 stories down and immediately stopped digging and roped off the area pending confirmation.

Experts from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture were called in to examine the find.

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Photos are courtesy of Transit Plumbing Inc.

“Burke Museum paleontologists have examined the fossil and we are confident that it represents a tusk from an ice age mammoth,” Christian Sidor, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, said later Tuesday.

“Because the fossil is on private property and does not seem to be associated  with an archaeological site, it is up to the landowner to decide what they would like to do with the tusk,” Sidor said. “We are happy to excavate the fossil if the landowner would like to take that step.

“The discovery of a mammoth tusk in South Lake Union is a rare opportunity to directly study Seattle’s ancient natural history.  As a public repository, the Burke Museum would be pleased to curate the tusk and provide access to scientists and others wishing to study it,” he said.

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Artist’s rendering of a woolly mammoth.

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