(CBS Seattle) — Whenever an expert in any field starts a sentence with ‘I’ve never seen a find like this,’ you know you have something special.
‘It was a pretty amazing experience,’ Burke Museum paleontologist Christian Sidor said about the discovery of a mammoth tusk in South Lake Union. ‘I’ve been in paleontology for 20 years and I’ve never seen a find like this captivate a community. Not just Seattle, it’s been everywhere.’
Largely because of that excitement, the tusk is going on display to the public as part of the museum’s annual Dino Day event this Saturday (March 8). An interactive naming contest also launches that day, where the public is encouraged to submit name suggestions.
PHOTOS: Seattle’s Mammoth Tusk Fossil
Since it was unearthed at a construction site near Mercer St. and Pontius Ave. back in February, the mammoth tusk has been at the Burke Museum in the beginning phases of an extensive conservation process. First, scientists will have to let the water-logged fossil dry out. That process could take about a year because if it dries too quickly, the delicate fossil could crack. At Dino Day, the tusk will be wrapped partially in plaster, which is part of the process, but Sidor said visitors will still be able to get a good idea of the fossil’s size. It measures 8.5 feet (tusks can be as long as 15 feet) and it’s the biggest and most complete specimen ever found in the Seattle area. Other mammoth fossils have been discovered in Washington, but most were just teeth and small bones, Sidor explained.
Aside from the size of the tusk, it’s unique also because of where it was unearthed. ‘The thing that has been shocking is finding a fossil like this right downtown,’ said Sidor. Construction workers hit the tusk while they digging about 30 feet down at the site of a future apartment building.
The tusk is believed to be a Columbian mammoth, which is Washington’s state fossil. (Sidor was quick to point out that there is a difference between an woolly mammoth and a Columbian.) The tusk is estimated to be anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 years old, but carbon dating will also be done to more accurately pinpoint when the animal lived and died.
‘Just knowing when this mammoth was around tells us that glaciers weren’t around at that time,’ said Sidor. Sediment collected from around the fossil is already being studied; it will also tell scientists about the plant life at the time and what other animals might have lived in the area.
The timing of the find couldn’t have been better for the museum; the tusk was found less than a month ahead of Dino Day.
‘We actually have to make an office pool on how big it’s going to be this year,’ Sidor said.
Click here for more information on Dino Day. The fossil will also be available for public viewing at the museum during the last three weekends in March.
-Rachel Ayres, CBS Seattle
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