Seattle’s Mammoths, Again

Wow, with all of the press on the Seattle mammoth, you’d think that no one had ever seen a mammoth before. Over the past week or so, news organizations from around the world (NPR, CNN, ABC, Fox, The Guardian, to name a few) have devoted an amazing amount information to our city’s newest media star.

It does make me wonder why. Part of it has to do with misunderstanding. I talked to one of the Burke Museum’s researchers who told me that friends kept asking him about the dinosaur that the museum was unearthing. (Washington is one of the few states where dinosaurs have never been found.) Despite what some people seem to think, mammoths are not dinosaurs, although the extinct pachyderms are very big and charismatic. Mammoths may be one of the few extinct beasts that rival dinosaurs for popularity. Ironically, the museum is supposedly going to put the tusk on display at its annual Dinosaur Day, Saturday, March 8.

A second part is that mammoths have become much more famous through the Ice Age movies, thus when the remains of one, even if it’s just a small percentage of the body, are found, people get excited. There was also the compelling story of the children from Bright Horizons Child Care cheering on the dig with such endearing signs as “Woolly U Be My Valentine.” There are few news items more compelling than tots and tusks.

And finally, Seattleites and the media that follow our fair city have been prepared for subterranean stories, following the brouhaha over Bertha and her lack of movement. Bertha’s troubles have already helped us to learn more about the city’s early history. The mammoth was simply pushing the history deeper into the past. I do hope that the interest in those stories will continue, as many more are waiting to be discovered and told.

I also wanted to point out a nifty blog posting, put up by Dave DeMar, a PhD student in paleontology at the University of Washington. Dave provides some great first hand accounts of the dig. Another Burke researcher I spoke with noted that the dig went amazing well, especially with so many people watching. It speaks highly of the Burke team, as well as the contractors (particularly the person who hit the tusk with his backhoe and recognized that it was something important enough to stop the dig) and those who owned the land. Let’s hope that they inspire others.

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