Jan
27
2011

Making A Mammoth: Part 1

How does a fossil go from being discovered to being a part of the Science Museum’s collections? In this first in a series of three posts, we’ll track a mammoth skull from being discovered in the field through the initial cleaning and processing at the museum. Check out the photos and the brief description of the process.

Lyle Excavation: In 1997, William Lyle discovered a fossil eroding from an embankment on his farm located just outside of Albert Lea, MN.  Museum staff were contacted and a salvage excavation was conducted.
Lyle Excavation: In 1997, William Lyle discovered a fossil eroding from an embankment on his farm located just outside of Albert Lea, MN. Museum staff were contacted and a salvage excavation was conducted.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Mammoth Skull: A close inspection of the skull reveals that it’s a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).  The skull is believed to be from an adult male due to the large size of the skull and tusks, the large number enamel ridges on its molars, and the concave slope of the forehead.
Mammoth Skull: A close inspection of the skull reveals that it’s a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). The skull is believed to be from an adult male due to the large size of the skull and tusks, the large number enamel ridges on its molars, and the concave slope of the forehead.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Field Jacket: Once the skull and tusks have been excavated, they have to be prepared for safe transport back to the museum.   A plaster field jacket is wrapped around the skull and the adjacent sediment.
Field Jacket: Once the skull and tusks have been excavated, they have to be prepared for safe transport back to the museum. A plaster field jacket is wrapped around the skull and the adjacent sediment.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Removing Field Jacket: Back in the lab, the first step is to cut away portions of the plaster field jacket.
Removing Field Jacket: Back in the lab, the first step is to cut away portions of the plaster field jacket.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Removing Matrix: Next, museum volunteer Neva Key removes the loose sediment matrix that surrounds the skull.  This is often a very labor intensive job and can take months to finish.
Removing Matrix: Next, museum volunteer Neva Key removes the loose sediment matrix that surrounds the skull. This is often a very labor intensive job and can take months to finish.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Check back next week for part two of the three part series on the Lyle Mammoth, when the challenge of creating a mount for the skull to stand upright will be discussed.

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