Step 1: Stabilize
|"For every day you spend collecting something, you can spend weeks, months or even years getting the preparation work done." —Bruce Crowley, Burke Museum Paleontology Lab Manager|
Before removing the tusk from the AMLI Residential construction site in South Lake Union, Burke paleontologists made it a “field jacket.” First, they covered the tusk in aluminum foil. Then, they added layers of burlap strips soaked in water and dipped in plaster. Then they placed 2x4’s along the tusk and added more layers of plaster-dipped burlap. Once the plaster dried, the tusk was ready to make the trip to the Burke Museum.
Burke paleontologists got the tusk out of the ground safely (hurrah!) and to the museum in about a day and a half on Feb. 13 and 14, 2014. But that was just the beginning.
Step 2: Give the people what they want
The tusk is making its public debut on March 8, 2014 at Dino Day, where one side of it will be visible. After that, it will be fully encased in plaster (see step 3), but it will still be on view at the museum during the last three weekends in March (Saturday and Sundays, March 15 to 30, 2014; 10 am–5 pm).
Step 3: Button it up
|The drill bits that will be used to take core samples for carbon dating.|
On Tuesday, March 11, Burke paleontologists will cover the top of the tusk in layers of plaster. Before they do, they will use a drill to remove two “core samples” that will be sent to a lab for carbon dating. Carbon dating can tell us exactly how old the tusk is—BUT, it’s not as accurate without samples from both sides of the tusk. Taking a sample from the bottom of the tusk will have to wait until it’s fully dry (see step 4).
Step 4: Let it dry
|Humidity gauge and "ports"|
The plaster is porous enough to let moisture escape, but it ensure the process of drying will happen very, very slowly so the tusk doesn’t crack and break apart. Burke paleontologists will measure the humidity with a special gauge (similar to a thermometer), inserted into the plaster jacket through hand-made “ports” (ingeniously created from halved whiffle balls and cork!). Once the humidity consistently measures that of the Burke Museum building, the tusk can be unwrapped and prepared for display.
Step 5: Stay tuned
Researchers could learn a lot from the tusk, and the soil samples that were taken during its excavation. The latest information will be published here as soon as it’s available!
For more information about the tusk, mammoths, and the world in which they lived, visit seattlemammoth.org.