LINCOLN — Slowly but surely, the woolly mammoth is coming together. Lincoln College Professor Dennis Campbell, whose student found a mammoth tusk last September, now has found a mammoth tooth at the same site.
"I was just compelled and drawn to the site again even though it was freezing and much of the creek was frozen,” said Campbell, a biology and earth science professor. “I just stood there and thought, What would (freshman Judd McCullom) do,’ and I then knew I had to put my hands in and look around."
McCullom found one tusk and parts of another in a creek bed just north of Lincoln. The specific site is kept secret to deter souvenir seekers.
Jeffrey Saunders, paleontology curator and chairman of the geology section of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, already was awaiting delivery of the 10-foot tusk to complete the preservation and attach the tusk pieces.
"Campbell then brought me his find, and it was a splendid tooth of what we can now say is the woolly mammoth," said Saunders, "The tusk for sure belongs to a woolly mammoth that is as woolly as woolly gets, right here in Lincoln."
The tooth is 8 inches long and 5 inches wide and, Saunders said, is the third molar from the upper right jaw. Part of the jaw bone is attached to the tooth.
Based on the wear of the tooth, he said, the mammoth tusk and tooth likely belonged to a 50-year-old male woolly mammoth.
"We can tell based on the tusk and now the tooth that it was a big animal, a splendid animal, who didn’t necessary die of old age. This male was successful in fathering lots of daughters, which is how success was measured," said Saunders. "It was quite a find. The value of the tooth is actually greater than the tusk because it was able to tell us so much."
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Saunders hopes to have the tooth back to the college for display by the end of winter or spring. The remaining tusk pieces are still pieces to a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be pieced together, Saunders said.
"This main tusk has undergone the preliminary state of stabilization, but it’s thousands of years old, so we definitively aren’t going to rush it," said Saunders.
The Discovery Channel of Canada has filmed the finding, and Campbell said the American version has discussed the possibility of using the footage for the United States.
"It’s been a pretty exciting time for myself and the students involved," said Campbell.
Students returned for spring semester earlier this week and are ready to get back to work on the tusk, which involves placing a glossy sheen over the tusk to keep it preserved and safely transported to the Illinois State Museum for the final processes.
"We’ve worked for several weeks on the final hardening. After the museum finishes it off, then metal rods will be installed to hold the entire tusk together, which will end up weighing around 400 pounds," said Campbell. "We’ve already been really excited about this tusk, and now we have the (tooth) that we can hopefully display alongside it."
McCullum can’t stop thinking about the time he can get back out to the creek to look for more bones.
"I’m really excited to go look for more; I’d go today if I could," said McCullum. "The best time to look for more findings, however, is when the water is low and the weather is warmer.
"There could be larger bones out there, and I’m ready to go looking again," said McCullum. "I’m thinking we could find femurs and other bones of the skeleton. This find definitely wants me to get back out there as soon as possible."