The tusk from a mammoth that lived 16,000 years ago in the Seattle area unearthed earlier this week appears to be the largest, most intact ever found in the region.
It's thought to be from a Columbian mammoth, a subgroup of woolly mammoths, and is considered to be a pretty rare find. Construction workers stumbled on it as they were digging the foundation for an apartment complex in the city's South Lake Union neighborhood.
As of Thursday, the tusk was still partly stuck in the ground and although it was possible that paleontologists from the Burke Museum at the University of Washington would find more of the animal preserved, it's not very likely. Tusks preserve better than other parts of the creature.
Paleontologists and graduate students have been carefully digging out the artifact, says Julie Stein, executive director of the museum, where the prehistoric artifact is destined to go on display. She praised AMLI Residential, the company that owns the construction site, for agreeing to hand over the tusk and allowing her team time to do a proper excavation.
The Associated Press says:
"Scientists at the Burke believe this tusk came from a Columbian mammoth, which is the Washington state fossil. The tusk, which could be as large as 8 feet long, is expected to be the largest and most intact mammoth tusk ever found in the Seattle area."
To get an idea of when this creature roamed a pre-Starbucks Seattle landscape, it was only a few thousand years before the appearance of the Clovis people in North America (see a report by NPR's Richard Harris on Thursday.)
And, as NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reported earlier this month, scientists are finding out more about what the giant herbivores ate by analyzing their DNA and dung.