2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 51
Presentation Time: 6:30 PM-8:30 PM


TREWORGY, Janis D., Geology, Principia College, 1 Maybeck Place, Elsah, IL 62028, SAUNDERS, Jeffrey J., Illinois State Museum Rsch and Collection Ctr, 1920 S. 10 ½ Street, Springfield, IL 62703 and GRIMLEY, David A., Illinois State Geological Survey, 615 E. Peabody Dr, Champaign, IL 61820, jdt@prin.edu

Students at Principia College, a four-year liberal arts college, are participating in a paleontological dig as part of a geology field course that meets an all-college science requirement. Remains of a woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, have been found. The excavation site is on the Principia College campus, located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River at Elsah, Illinois, near the confluence of the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. The site is a high upland area about 0.4 km from the edge of the bluffs in an open area surrounded by dormitories.

Students come to understand the scientific process through their participation in all aspects of this scientific research project. They gain background information about mammoths, the Pleistocene Epoch, and other mammoth excavations from lectures, the literature, and videos. Field trips to other excavation sites and museums have enriched the Principia project. Experts in vertebrate paleontology at the Illinois State Museum and in Quaternary geology at the Illinois State Geological Survey have guided various aspects of the project, including digging and sampling techniques, identifying bones, and understanding the geology. Students learn to actively participate in discussions with geologists about (1) observations at the dig site; (2) data collection methods; (3) hypotheses development for various aspects of the mammoth—his demise, his state of preservation, the time period in which he lived; and (4) hypotheses testing based on new observations and data.

Students have many opportunities to share their growing knowledge with site visitors—both spontaneous drop-ins and scheduled school groups and news reporters. Students also participate in site management and are excited to make real-life decisions and implement them: to protect the pit from rain, manage crowds, and decide how to bury the bones for the winter. The students take pride in keeping the site clean and organized. Their final task is to write a progress report to a hypothetical funding agency. This report includes a review of the literature pertinent to our site, a section on methods of study, our findings and their scientific significance, a discussion of various hypotheses being considered, and our progress in testing them.