Mammoth tusk is largest ever found in Seattle; removed from construction site

by: Chris Legeros Updated:


SEATTLE - Scientists from the Burke Museum have removed the largest and most complete mammoth tusk ever found in Seattle from the bottom of an apartment building construction site in the South Lake Union area.

The fossil, which is estimated to be 20,000 years old and is 8.5 feet long, was discovered by workers at the property owned by AMLI Residential on Tuesday.  Carbon-dating tests will be able to offer a more precise age for the fossil. 

During the excavation process this week, paleontologists carefully removed dirt from around the tusk with shovels, trowels and brushes. They then placed layers of plaster-soaked burlap bandages on one side of the tusk to help protect it when it is removed from the site.

Four museum paleontologists led by Dr. Christian Sidor worked late Thursday to prepare the waterlogged Columbian mammoth tusk to be removed from the hole 30 feet below ground.

At 10 p.m. they ran out of plaster and the museum’s director made a run to the Home Depot in SoDo.  Julie Stein said, “The foreman opened the door, got the plaster and the tills were all closed, so they said we’re donating this to the Burke Museum.”

Late Friday afternoon the tusk was wrapped in a blanket and strapped to a wooden pallet. A construction crane lifted it to a flatbed truck.

Plant and insect fragments were also collected at the site. Scientists said they will help reconstruct what the area looked like when the mammoth was alive. No other fossils were discovered during the excavation.

The museum said it could take it least a year for the waterlogged tusk to dry.  During the process, Burke conservators will slowly remove the plaster and repair any damage to the tusk.

The museum will have temporary custody of the tusk, which still belongs to AMLI Residential. The two sides will now sit down and talk about future plans for the artifact.

The museum said the tusk presents a rare opportunity for paleontologists and other researchers to understand the conditions present in Seattle during the ice age.

Want to talk about the news of the day? Watch free streaming video on the KIRO 7 mobile app and iPad app, and join us here on Facebook