On February 16, 1961, the Seattle Times reported that geologists had dug out the roughly 10,000-year-old bones of a giant sloth from a peat bog near the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Two years later, alongside an article about Boeing’s plans for a supersonic jet and an ad for “Ladies’ Days” bargains on bedspreads and cribs, the newspaper ran a story about 22 mammoth bone fragments and a tooth found at Sixth Avenue and Seneca Street during the excavation for a new building. The foreman, Byron Green, said that he planned to clean the tooth and let his kids take it to school.
Last week, Seattle started buzzing about a new discovery: an 8.5-foot-long Columbian mammoth tusk unearthed by an apartment development company in the South Lake Union district, the city’s epicenter for Amazon workers. The company, AMLI Residential, found the tusk last Tuesday. Luckily, they alerted the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture instead of simply bulldozing through the fossil.
On the night of February 13, paleontologists cleaned away the dirt around the tusk and wrapped the fossil in plaster. (They scored 100 pounds of free plaster from a nearby Home Depot.) Christian Sidor, the museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, told the Seattle Times that the softened tusk “almost felt like a crayon.” Researchers also are going to examine soil from the site for bugs, snails, and seeds.
Seattle, especially the South Lake Union area, sometimes feels like a giant construction zone. Amazon has proposed to build a flashy campus with a trio of “biospheres,” and new apartment complexes are going up everywhere to meet the housing demand. Within a few blocks of my building, one complex was just completed and another two are in the works. When we first moved to Seattle a year ago, we nearly rented a place that turned out to be right next to a planned demolition and construction site.
I’m glad that amidst all the bulldozing and jackhammering and hollowing-out of new underground parking garages, something precious has been found. Tens of thousands of years ago, this mammoth wandered the plains of Washington, grazing on grass and pines. There was no Amazon, no Starbucks, no Boeing, no Microsoft. Just a towering animal, surrounded by open land, and nary a biosphere in sight.
First image: jurgenfr | Shutterstock
Second image: Christian Sidor, courtesy Burke Museum