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Adelphi researchers unveil mammoth tusk discovered in Alaska

On Monday, April 10, 2017, Adelphi University received a rare 14,000-year-old mammoth tusk, one that the Garden City school's faculty unearthed in August of 2016 in interior Alaska. The tusk is believed to belong to one of the last surviving mammoths roaming the mainland near the end of the last Ice Age, researchers say. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Adelphi University researchers have made a discovery of mammoth proportions.

While excavating in interior Alaska, Adelphi faculty unearthed a mammoth tusk, 140 centimeters long and estimated to be around 14,000 years old.

The tusk is believed to belong to one of the last surviving mammoths roaming the mainland near the end of the last ice age, researchers said. It arrived at the university’s Garden City campus this week in a large wooden crate, with the two portions of tusk sheathed in layers of plastic and aluminum foil.

On Monday, the anthropology professors who led the excavation, Kathryn Krasinski and Brian Wygal, pried the crate open and cut through the protective covering to reveal the tusk.

“Finding a nearly complete mammoth tusk at an archaeological site in Alaska is pretty rare,” Krasinski said.

The researcher said she’s dug “thousands of holes” over the past two decades searching for a tusk as complete as this one. She’s hoping the find will help shed some light on how mammoths and humans coexisted and how humans may have contributed to the creature’s extinction.

About 20 students and researchers participated in the excavation near Fairbanks last summer, Krasinski said. The tusk was discovered in August by a couple of students, who found it buried about 5 1⁄2 feet underground.

“They hollered over from their unit and said, ‘We think we found something pretty big,” Wygal recalled.

Researchers removed the tusk over the course of a few days, Krasinski said. At the time, it was too fragile to transport across the country and was instead taken to a facility in Anchorage.

Krasinski and Wygal will inspect the discovery further and then collaborate with other researchers to conduct an isotopic analysis of the tusk, which will help them discern things like the mammoth’s diet and its state of health at the time of death.

“This will help us reconstruct the life history of the mammoth,” Wygal said. “And hopefully it’ll give us some clues into the bigger questions, like whether people played a role in their extinction or if it was simply climate change.”

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