Students, faculty dig into mammoth discovery

mammoth

Construction crews digging in the north end zone at Reser Stadium discovered a treasure trove of ancient mammal bones in January, setting off a worldwide media frenzy and providing unexpected hands-on learning opportunities for students and faculty on Oregon State’s Corvallis campus.

The bones, which date back to the Pleistocene period at least 10,000 years ago, include a large femur believed to be from a mammoth. Bones from other extinct megafauna, or large animals such as bison, horses or camels, were also found in the deposit uncovered by crews working on the Valley Football Center expansion project.

Oregon State faculty researchers are working with an outside lab to further pinpoint the age of the fossils using radiocarbon dating, says Loren Davis, an associate professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts. Davis was called to the site after the initial discovery was made and has pulled sediment core samples from the area where the bones were discovered. Once analyzed, the samples will give researchers a better sense of the environment of
the earth at that time, Davis says.

Shortly after the bones were discovered, dozens of students, many of them in anthropology classes, had a chance to go through piles of dirt from the construction site to find and remove additional bone pieces. In all, 12 bins of bones were salvaged from the project and are now being stored for preservation and research.

Students in Rebecca Terry’s Paleobiology class are taking an inventory to determine, as best they can, how many and what types of bones have been found. Terry, an assistant professor and paleontologist in the College of Science’s Department of Integrative Biology, reworked the course’s curriculum to accommodate the mammoth discovery.

Terry’s students will learn how to carefully prepare the bones for drying and long-term preservation. They will also start screen-washing some of the more than 100 five-gallon buckets of dirt pulled from the site to look for more pieces, including insects and bones from much smaller animals.

“They will get to experience a much broader range of paleontology field work this way than they would otherwise,” Terry says. “It is exciting and really representative of what paleontology is like.

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