Mammoth Undertaking

The stuffed Beresovka mammoth, in The Museum of Zoology, St. Petersburg.

The Siberian permafrost is thawing and giving up its dead — the remains of woolly mammoths that died over 10,000 years ago. Fifty tons of mammoth bones are turned up every year in Russia. A feature article in the LA Times notes:

Many of the populated areas have been picked clean, driving scavengers deeper and deeper into the wilderness in the hunt for bones.

The smoothest bones go to collectors and museums around the world; the less perfect samples are shipped to carving factories, especially in China, where they are refashioned into high-end household items and keepsakes.

Prior to the worldwide economic slump, quality mammoth bones were worth $700 per kilogram.

Gonna (En)Roll Them Bones

Completion of Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s new downtown San Diego digs will be on hold for the next few days: on Wednesday the tusks and skull of a 500,000-year-old Columbian Mammoth were found where the basement is supposed to go.

Lawyers usually are better at keeping the bodies buried, but it’s hard to hide the remains from an animal that may have been as tall as 15-17 feet. Besides, paleo-cops were already on the scene. The San Diego Museum of Natural History’s PaleoServices consulting group works at local construction areas along with the bulldozers to assure compliance with California law.

The skull was the first intact mammoth skull ever to be found in San Diego County, according to paleontologist Pat Sena, who identified the remains during excavation of the site. Foot and leg bones were also found alongside the skull.

Law school officials are making publicity hay while the sun shines:

Thomas Jefferson School of Law Dean Rudy Hasl points out that the school’s namesake, founding father Thomas Jefferson, was so fascinated with the fossils of the giant ancient mammals, that he began a collection of their big bones in the White House.

According to the National Park Service website on the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Jefferson was a central player in the beginnings of the science of paleontology. The site reports that Jefferson sent explorer Meriwether Clark on what might be called the first ever paleontology expedition to collect large bones from the giant creatures for his White House collection.

Dean Hasl says “It is particularly appropriate that the remains were found on the site of a school that will carry his name forever.”