Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mammoth tusk may be largest found in Seattle area

SEATTLE — The mammoth tusk found this week at a construction site appears to be the largest and most intact mammoth fossil ever uncovered in the Seattle area, experts say.

Scientists at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture say the fossil dates back at least 16,000 years when ice swept through the Seattle area.

Although it is possible the paleontologists who began digging out the fossil on Thursday will find more than just a tusk, experts doubt that will happen.

Mammoth elephants lived all over the United States and Europe in ancient times, but finding a tusk or any part of those animals is rare, said Jack Horner of the Museum of the Rockies and Montana State University.

"We don't find them every year or even every five years," said Horner, one of the nation's most famous paleontologists.

In most cases, artifacts found at construction sites are destroyed by equipment before anyone even notices them, Horner said.

The fate of this mammoth tusk was entirely up to the landowner, because Washington has no state laws governing finds of this type. Horner said that is true anywhere in the United States.

"Americans like their private land," he said, adding that Americans don't like to pass laws putting restrictions on owners of private land, even to protect history.

Allyson Brooks, the Washington state preservation officer, said the situation would be different if construction workers had found human remains or other items of archaeological value because Washington state has laws for those situations.

With paleontological finds, the landowner can do whatever he or she wants — sell it, destroy it, donate it or ignore it, Brooks said.

This time, the landowner decided to donate the tusk to the Burke Museum, just as Horner hoped would happen.

It's a relatively rare find and should be preserved for educational reasons, so children will know mammoth elephants once lived in Seattle, he said.

"A lot of times, people think these things are worth a lot of money," Horner said. Their true value is educational, not what someone can sell a tusk for on eBay, he said.

As paleontologists and graduate students began carefully digging away the dirt around the tusk on Thursday afternoon, Julie Stein, executive director of the Burke Museum, said AMLI Residential has been wonderful to work with.

Scott Koppelman, senior vice president of AMLI Residential, said after contractors found the fossil buried about 25 to 30 feet below street level, the company turned quickly to the museum for assistance.

He said the company's first response when hearing of the find was the community benefit.

"The excavation will cause us some construction delay, but the scientific and educational benefits of this discovery clearly outweigh the costs and delay," Koppelman said. "This is an exciting discovery for our local Northwest history."

In 2004, Washington state halted construction on a section of a major bridge project, on which $58 million had already been spent, at the request of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe after remains of an ancient Indian village and burial ground were discovered.

Discoveries of animal remains from the Ice Age are less common than human remains in western Washington. Preservation of bone and tusks depends on the environmental conditions, such as the water table, the acidity of the soil and how deeply the object was buried, Brooks said.

"A lot of time, teeth preserve better than other bones," she said, likening tusks to teeth. She said teeth and tusks are what she and the scientists she works with consider "biological rock."

The last big find of an ancient animal of this sort in western Washington happened in 1977, when a mastodon tusk was found near Sequim, Wash., on the Olympic Peninsula.

Mammoths and mastodons are related and probably roamed the Earth around the same time. Both were very large and hairy. Mammoths and modern-day elephants are members of the same biological family.

Scientists at the Burke believe this tusk came from a Columbian mammoth, which is the Washington state fossil. The tusk, which could be as large as 8 feet long, is expected to be the largest and most intact mammoth tusk ever found in the Seattle area.

Gov. Jay Inslee did not wish to comment on the tusk discovery, but a member of his team had something to say.

"This has turned every adult in Seattle back into a 10-year-old," said the governor's spokeswoman, Jaime Smith.

Mammoth tusk may be largest found in Seattle area 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:29am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up

    Blogs

    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  2. Tampa Bay Times honored for top investigative story in Gerald Loeb annual business awards

    Business

    The Tampa Bay Times was a co-winner in the investigative category for one of the highest honors in business journalism.

    Tampa Bay Times current and former staff writers William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash and Anthony Cormier were honored in the investigative category for their coverage of "Allegiant Air" in the 60th Anniversary Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. 
[JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times

]

  3. Pasco woman gives birth to child fathered by 11 year old, deputies say

    Crime

    A Port Richey woman was arrested Tuesday, nearly three years after deputies say she gave birth to a child fathered by an 11-year-old boy.

    Marissa Mowry, 25, was arrested Tuesday on charges she sexually assaulted an 11-year-old and gave birth to his child. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. For good of the Rays, Tim Beckham should embrace move to second

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The acquisition of slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria said a lot of things, most notably that the Rays are serious about making in-season moves to bolster their chances to make the playoffs, with a reliever, or two, next on the shopping list.

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 27:  Tim Beckham #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after scoring during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 700011399
  5. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman faces Baker for first time tonight at the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr.'s church

    Local Government

    A standing-room-only crowd packed a Midtown church banquet hall Tuesday to witness the first face-off between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker in what is a watershed mayoral contest in the city's history.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.