2003 Seattle Annual Meeting (November 2–5, 2003)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


TREWORGY, Janis D., Earth Science, Principia College, Elsah, IL 62028, SAUNDERS, Jeffrey J., Illinois State Museum Rsch and Collection Ctr, 1920 S. 10 1/2 Street, Springfield, IL 62703, GRIMLEY, David A., Illinois State Geological Survey, 615 E. Peabody Dr, Champaign, IL 61820 and WAKELING, Christine, Principia College, Elsah, IL 62028, jdt@prin.edu

Remains of a woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, have been found on the campus of Principia College, located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River at Elsah, Illinois. Students at this four-year liberal arts college are participating in the excavation and bone preparation as members of a geology field course that meets an all-college science requirement. They participate in all aspects of the project, from site maintenance to developing lab procedures, and through it learn by experience the scientific process. Background information about mammoths, the Pleistocene Epoch, and other mammoth excavations is derived from the literature and videos. Field trips to other excavation sites and museums have enriched our project. Guest scientists, including vertebrate paleontologists and Quaternary geologists, have visited and provided expertise in the excavation plan, digging and sampling techniques, identifying bones, understanding the geology, and lab procedures.

The Principia mammoth was found at a depth of about 2 m within a highly leached, yellow-brown loess unit known regionally as the Peoria Silt (late Wisconsin Episode). Total loess thickness (Peoria and Roxana Silts) at the site is about 9.5 m. Middle Mississippian limestone forms the bedrock, which is estimated to be 1 to 2 m deeper. The mammoth is a mature male, estimated to have been (1) 39 to 43 years of age (African Elephant Years) based on its teeth, (2) about 3.3 m in height at the shoulders based on the length of the humerus, and (3) living about 17,500 (14C) years ago based on its stratigraphic position within the Peoria Silt. The skull is inverted and, except for the two maxillary molars (M3s) and ventral proximal portions of the tusks, still unexcavated. The tusks and M3s are articulated, as the skull also appears to be. The mandible is missing. Limb bones, scapulae, ribs, and vertebrae are variably dispersed and have shallow plunges, suggesting only minor disturbance of the remains prior to their burial on a flat paleosurface. The cause of his demise remains unknown, but entices our imagination and demands our best detective work.