Yesterday, a worker found a tusk in Seattle. The well preserved specimen, most likely from a mammoth but possibly from a mastodon, was unearthed at a site in South Lake Union. After making the discovery, the workers contacted the Burke Museum, which sent a team of experts to examine the site. Unfortunately, they were not able to excavate it, as it is on private land the owner had not yet decided what to do with the tusk.
Based on the initial analysis, Burke paleontologists believe that the tusk comes from a mammoth. If that is the case, it is most likely a Columbian mammoth, as that is the species known from this area. In fact, there have been at least 18 discoveries of mammoth remains in King County. They include tusks, molars, femurs, and various fragments. One of the most recent was found at Lakeview Elementary in Kirkland during the excavation for the school’s gymnasium. At the time, it was reported in the press that tusk was from a mastodon. Subsequent research showed that it was actually from a mammoth. It was also age-dated to 16,540 ± 80 14C yr B.P., or 19,710 calendar years before present, the youngest evidence for mammoths in the region.
No matter what species it is, the tusk is further evidence of the many stories that lie just beneath the surface and that reveal the complex history of the Seattle landscape. I suspect there will be further chapters to come.