Burke Museum Home

Press Release

Detailed information on the exhibits, research projects, and programs tailored for journalists. For more information or questions please contact Burke Museum Public Relations.

February 25, 2014

South Lake Union Mammoth Tusk Now at Burke Museum

What’s next? Preservation Process, Research Opportunities, and Public Viewing
Provided by AMLI Residential at Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Seattle – The story of the fossilized mammoth tusk found last week in the South Lake Union neighborhood is just beginning.

On Tuesday, February 12, 2014, construction workers at an AMLI Residential apartment construction site in the Cascade neighborhood of South Lake Union were digging with a backhoe and felt something unusual—what appeared to be a fossilized mammoth tusk. Burke Museum paleontologists were called to examine and confirmed the find. Burke paleontologists worked with AMLI Residential and RAFN Construction crews on February 13 and 14 to carefully remove and transport the tusk to the Burke Museum.

Based on its age and location, Burke paleontologists believe the tusk belonged to a Columbian Mammoth—the Washington State fossil. Currently sitting in a protective cast made of plaster bandages and aluminum foil, carefully reinforced with 2’x4’ wooden planks, the tusk is starting a long preservation process.

Found in moist, sandy sediments just a couple of blocks from Lake Union, the tusk is waterlogged and very fragile. It can scratch easily, like a scratching a crayon with your fingernail. In order to protect the fossil—the most complete and largest mammoth tusk ever found in Seattle—the tusk will need to slowly dry out—a process that will take at least 12 months. During that time, it will stay in the plaster cast, which helped protect the tusk when it was moved from the AMLI Residential apartment site on February 14. The plaster cast will also help the tusk keep its shape and slow the drying process. As the tusk stabilizes, Burke conservators will slowly remove the plaster and repair any damage to the tusk with a dilute glue designed for fossil preservation.

Although still wrapped in plaster, the tusk is already revealing its story. This particular tusk is an important find, not only because of its completeness, but because Burke paleontologists were able to collect the fossil along with detailed data from the sediment surrounding it. Many historical fossils in natural history museums lack this crucial information. Soil was collected every 10 centimeters from 21 horizons—snapshots over geologic time—so scientists can begin to reconstruct what the environment was like during the time since the mammoth was buried. During the dig, Burke paleontologists observed fossilized beetle and plant parts in the overlying lakebed sediments. Scientists will wash and prepare the sediment samples taken at the site to look for more small organisms such as insects, snails, seeds, and especially pollen, which can provide information about ancient floras. 

The tusk itself can contribute to several scientific areas, among them: carbon dating to confirm the age of the fossil, stable isotope geochemical analysis to identify the types of plants the mammoth ate, and potentially DNA analysis to determine the genetics and sex of the mammoth.

The Burke Museum’s paleontology collection is essentially a library of fossils that help tell the story of life on earth. Researchers from around the world can study the tusk and other fossils at any time. Researchers from around the world can study the fossils at any time, and the tusk is an important addition.

The public can see the tusk in its plaster casing at Dino Day, Saturday, March 8, 10 am – 4 pm, and for the following weekends in March. Only one side of the tusk will be visible at Dino Day only, and may be covered throughout the day with moist cloths to prevent the tusk from drying too quickly. Visitors can talk to Burke paleontologists as they monitor the fossil throughout the event.

After Dino Day, the tusk will be re-jacketed in plaster to allow it to slowly dry over the upcoming months. While the tusk will be fully enclosed (much like a broken arm or leg wrapped in a cast), visitors can get a good sense of its gently curved shape and tremendous length of 8 ½ feet.

Other mammoth fossils (including tusks) will also be on display, and visitors can learn about the last Ice Age in Seattle with guided mini-tours in the Life and Times of Washington State exhibit. Photos of the tusk and the excavation/preservation process, as well as video of the fossil being lifted by a crane out of the AMLI Residential construction site will accompany the tusk itself on the weekends. Kids and adults alike can also decorate a Burke Mammoth coloring sheet.

Burke paleontologists will continue to carefully monitor the tusk to ensure that it is drying properly and not getting damaged. Visitors should go to the Burke Museum’s website (burkemuseum.org) before visiting to see if there are any changes to the displaying of the tusk.

A naming contest will be announced soon—stay tuned for opportunities to submit your ideas!

High resolution images of the tusk are available, contact burkepr@uw.edu.

Media Opportunity:
Media are invited to see the tusk in its plaster casing and a sneak peek of naming contest details in the Burke Museum’s Paleontology collection on Wednesday, February 26, 3–5 pm. Cameras are welcome. Burke Museum Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Dr. Christian Sidor will be available for interviews. No interviews or additional information will be provided until that time. For questions regarding logistics for the press conference, please contact one of the two media contacts listed above.

# # #

About AMLI Residential:
AMLI Residential, a preeminent multifamily real estate firm headquartered in Chicago, focuses on the development, construction and management of luxury apartment communities throughout the country. Founded in 1980, AMLI currently owns and/or manages 58 apartment communities, including over 19,700 apartment homes, and has over 8,000 additional apartment homes under development in 24 locations. AMLI owns and manages four apartment communities in the Seattle area, which will contain over 1,000 apartment homes when construction is complete on their two newest developments. More information is available at http://www.amli.com.  

About the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture:
The Burke Museum is the Washington State Museum of natural history and culture. The Burke Museum creates a better understanding of the world and our place in it. The museum is responsible for Washington State collections of natural and cultural heritage and sharing the knowledge that makes them meaningful. The Burke welcomes a broad and diverse audience and provides a community gathering place that nurtures life-long learning and encourages respect, responsibility, and reflection. The museum is located on the University of Washington campus, at the corner of NE 45th St. and 17th Ave. NE. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily, and until 8 pm on first Thursdays. Admission: $10 general, $8 senior, $7.50 student/ youth. Admission is free to children four and under, Burke members, UW students, faculty, and staff. Admission is free to the public on the first Thursday of each month. Prorated parking fees are $15 and partially refundable upon exit if paid in cash. Call 206-543-5590 or visit http://www.burkemuseum.org The B.urke Museum is an American Alliance of Museums-accredited museum and a Smithsonian Affiliate.

(206) 543-9762; FAX (206) 616-1274

The tusk was wrapped in aluminum foil, burlap, four layers of plaster, and blankets, then strapped to a pallet to be transported to the Burke Museum on Friday, February 14.
Photo by Cathy Britt, courtesy Burke Museum and AMLI Residential.
The tusk was wrapped in aluminum foil, burlap, four layers of plaster, and blankets, then strapped to a pallet to be transported to the Burke Museum on Friday, February 14.
Photo by Cathy Britt, courtesy Burke Museum and AMLI Residential.