A Mammoth of a Discovery at Principia College

Mammoth Tusk

While collecting topsoil for a construction project, Michael Towell of the Facilities Department Infrastructure Crew, spotted what he thought might be bone fragments on the ground. After Towell alerted his supervisors to the discovery, Principia quickly moved to secure the site and call in Dr. Melissa Pardi, curator of geology for the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. She concluded that the fragments of ivory are the remains of a large tusk, probably of a mammoth or a mastodon.

This will be the second mammoth excavation on Principia College campus. The first mammoth discovery was made in 1999 when a facilities crew member discovered a mammoth tooth while operating a backhoe on campus. The mammoth, nicknamed “Benny” after its discoverer, was excavated from 1999–2013 and is estimated to have died 17,500 years ago. The remains of the male woolly mammoth, including two tusks, a skull, and the frame of a body, are now displayed in the lower level of the Science Center on campus.

The current mammoth site is secured, and a large team of faculty and staff will continue to assess the next steps in the protection and excavation of the tusk. A second team will work with outside experts to use ground-penetrating radar to see if there are any further mammoth remains to be discovered. Dr. Andrew Martin, who teaches sociology and anthropology, and Dr. Kathryn Swanson, who teaches history, will coordinate the research and education process, and there will be ongoing evaluation of how to incorporate the site into curriculum at the college.

In keeping with tradition, the new mammoth find will be named “Mike” after its discoverer. When asked how he first reacted to the news, Dr. John Lovseth, one of the first on site after the discovery was made, says he was in awe. The biology professor and director of land stewardship notes that it’s humbling and exciting “to be in the presence of something of such significance, so old, and a clue to the ecological history of the past.”