Excavation began Thursday to uncover a mammoth tusk that is the largest ever found in Seattle. As archeologists worked to dig out the 16,000 year old tusk from the construction site, they noted it is mostly in tact and in good condition.
The mammoth tooth was found on Tuesday when the ALMI Residential construction company came across it while working on the South Lake apartment complex in Seattle. They noticed the giant tooth approximately 25 to 30 feet below ground and immediately contacted a local museum for help.
According to scientists at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, it is a rare find. It is not common to come across such artifacts, especially one as well-preserved as this. The University of Washington museum, in Seattle, is home to 25 mammoth artifacts, but most of the pieces are just fragments. None is as complete as the newest addition.
Much to their delight, the land owner decided to donate the mammoth tusk to the Burke museum, even though the law in Washington does not prohibit him from keeping or selling the artifact. He did not have to turn it in, but he chose to do so to preserve it for the educational value and to support the community.
Construction delays are expected while the excavation takes place. Though scientists do not expect to find any more parts of the mammoth, they are surveying the area and doing their best to remove the tusk in tact and not cause any damage to it. Scott Koppelman, senior vice president at ALMI Residential, said that the history of the tusk is worth more than keeping the project on schedule. The value of the tusk will be educational, not how much money it is worth, he said.
Mammoth artifacts have been found throughout North America, Asia and Europe. The first well-documented mammoth excavation occurred in Russia in 1901. A baby mammoth was uncovered in Siberia in 1977. But this is the first big find from an ice age animal in the Seattle area since 1977 when a mastodon tusk was recovered.
The mammoth and mastodon would have roamed the area at the same time. The animals likely traveled in herds 16,000 years ago. They are known to be vegetarians, consuming as much as 600 pounds of vegetation on any given day. They were every bit as big as an African elephant is today. The mammoth tusk found in Seattle is expected to measure about eight feet long. It is estimated to weigh 500 pounds.
The only thing needed to remove the Columbian mammoth tusk, aside from small hand tools and physical digging, is a crane to lift the large object, which the construction company has covered.
The staff at the Burke museum is expected to transport the mammoth tusk from the construction site on Friday. They need to wrap it in a plastic cast and pack the artifact in wooden pallets in an effort to maintain the condition. If all goes well with the move, the tusk will be displayed for their dinosaur days display on March 8.
By Tracy Rose