Holy Mammoth! Tusk Arrives At The Burke Museum

Feb 27, 2014

Construction workers discovered this fossilized tusk (wrapped in plaster) on February 12, 2014. They contacted paleontologists at the Burke Museum who confirmed the find. The tusk has since been transferred to the Burke for preservation and research. The smaller tusk above was found in Alaska.
Construction workers discovered this fossilized tusk (wrapped in plaster) on February 12, 2014. They contacted paleontologists at the Burke Museum who confirmed the find. The tusk has since been transferred to the Burke for preservation and research. The smaller tusk above was found in Alaska.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

Scientists are hoping to learn more about a fossilized mammoth tusk that was uncovered two weeks ago at a construction site in Seattle’s South Lake Union area. The tusk has since been transferred to the Burke Museum for preservation and research.

During a recent media viewing, paleontologist Christian Sidor pulled down the plastic wrap covering the museum’s newest resident.

The public will get a chance to see the tusk on March 8. After that, the tusk will be covered in plaster for about a year. It needs to be dried very slowly. Too fast, and the tusk will fracture.

The fossilized tusk is caked in sediment at the moment, but rub off some of the dirt, and you'll see the beige colored tusk underneath.
The fossilized tusk is caked in sediment at the moment, but rub off some of the dirt, and you'll see the beige colored tusk underneath.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

It doesn’t look anything like the polished ivory you usually picture when you think of tusks. This one is still caked in sediment.

Sidor estimated the tusk is about 22,000 years old. It’s the largest and most complete one ever found in Seattle.

He said tusks are like tree rings. “You have a complete record of the animal’s life,” he said. “You can count up the rings and say OK, that’s 365 days, that’s one year, and here, the animal fought at this time; so these are incredible paleo-thermometers of what was happening during this animal’s life.”

Scientists think it may have belonged to a Columbian mammoth. It’s not clear yet whether it was a male or female. Scientists are also analyzing sediment from the tusk and from the construction site to get a snapshot of what the environment was like at the time.