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by Lonnie Archibald
by Katherine Vollenweider
A mammoth find in Sequim
Photo: Burke Museum
The partial skull of a Columbian mammoth was found near Sequim earlier this month and is now undergoing conservation at the Burke Museum. Pictured are the upper teeth.
A partial skull of what’s likely a Columbian mammoth was found along an eroded bluff near Sequim, Washington, earlier this month! Local residents spotted the teeth of the mammoth skull while walking on state Department of Natural Resources land and contacted officials who put them in touch with Burke paleontologists.
Christian Sidor, Burke Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology, and Bruce Crowley, Burke fossil lab manager, went to investigate and help collect the specimen. They found that the largest portion of the fossil—the upper jaw containing two massive teeth—had already come completely out of the bluff where it had resided for thousands of years. However, there were smaller pieces of the fossil still embedded at the base of the bluff.
“The fossil is preserved in rocks that represent a gravelly river bed,” Christian said. “The animal must have died close to the river, been swept in (or scavenged), and then its skull was eventually buried.” The cobble-like layer of rock and sand surrounding the fossil indicates that it is likely 50,000-100,000 years old.
Columbian mammoths (mammuthus columbi) once roamed from Alaska to Mexico and are the most common species of mammoth fossil found in this part of Washington state—so common, in fact, that the Columbian mammoth is the Washington state fossil. Several other mammoth fossils have been found in the Olympic Peninsula region in recent years are available for study in the Burke’s paleontology collection (you can view the fossils in our online paleontology collections database).
Now that the fossil is at the Burke, the conservation process has begun! Conservation starts with carefully removing any remaining rock and sediment from the fossil—a fairly simple task given how soft the surrounding land was. However, the step of putting the pieces together likely won’t be as simple.
Photo: Burke Museum
The back of the skull in the Burke’s fossil prep lab.
While the specimen is at the Burke, Christian hopes to learn more about it. “Analysis of the teeth would allow us to estimate the age of the individual, but based on its size it appears to be an adult,” he said about the find, noting that “each one provides an important piece of data on our region’s natural history.”
“Vertebrate fossils are important objects that shouldn’t be viewed as trophies,” he stressed. “Bringing the fossil to the attention of the Burke Museum assures that the scientific community can access the data contained within the specimen and that is available to the people of Washington in perpetuity.”
What’s next for the Sequim mammoth fossil? "Once it is stabilized, documented, and preliminarily studied, the Sequim Museum is interested in displaying the specimen,” Christian said. “My goal is to work with the local museum to get the fossil on display soon.”
ROSS HAMILTON PHOTOGRAPHY
Ross Hamilton is a 45 year veteran explorer of the Olympic Peninsula and a 50 year student of his art. His long standing pursuit of excellence and accuracy has earned him the respect of those who treasure the beauty of the Olympics. His straightforward style celebrates the beauty of his subjects with little embellishment. For him, the original cannot be improved upon. Though his passions run deep, he lays little claim to artistic achievement, thinking himself to be a 'copy boy' for the Creator's art. Come in and view his new canvasses & 2016 Calendar for sale !
THE BOYS in THE BOAT
Drop in and see our newest and permanent exhibit "Boys in the Boat". The story of the 1936 Olympic Games “Gold Medal Winner” Joe Rantz from Sequim.
Proud Supporters of the Boys in the Boat
If you missed purchasing one of the beautiful shirts or caps, there are still some available & can be purchased at the Museum Exhibit Center Wednesday Through Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm