PRINEVILLE — Students of Eastern Oregon University recently got a first-hand look at archeology in action after excavating the front quarter of mammoth remains.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came about after the remains of the long-extinct animal were discovered in a gravel quarry owned by EOU alumnus Craig Woodward, said Vicky Hart, university public relations specialist. Workers from Knife River Corporation had leased the land to extract sand and gravel, when they uncovered tusks about 30 feet below the surface.

Woodward immediately reached out to his alma mater — donating the find to EOU for research and display. While he died shortly after the fossils were discovered, members of Woodward’s family worked with the university to make the donation official with a memorandum of understanding. Months later, they worked alongside EOU students and faculty members from the anthropology and biology departments to carefully remove the bones.

“I think a lot of the students were surprised at how much work was involved,” said anthropology professor Rory Becker. “It takes coordination of many, many moving parts — plus, straight digging holes.”

Becker, who led the dig with fellow anthropology professor Linda Reed-Jerofke and biology professor Joe Corsini, said the high-impact, experiential learning activity provided students with an opportunity to decide whether fieldwork would be a suitable career path. The team’s 12-hour days from Oct. 9-13 often began and ended in the dark, Becker said.

The group removed giant arm bones, including the ulna, radius and humerus, as well as tusks, a cranium and several vertebrae. Corsini, an experienced paleontologist, used Super Glue at the site to stabilize the tusks.

After removing the sediment-packed bones, they were covered in plaster and transported on a flatbed truck to the university’s La Grande campus. All of the elements are now securely stored near the school’s biology and anthropology labs.

Becker said research will begin during the stabilization process as individual bones are inspected and further preserved. Future studies, he said, could cover a wide range of topics — how long ago the mammoth died, how old it was, how it got to that location, where the rest of the remains went, what it ate, or what kind of environment it lived in.

For more information, contact Becker at 541-962-3229 or rbecker@eou.edu.

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