In what might have been the most successful college field trip of all time, Lincoln College freshman Judd McCullum discovered the tusk of a Wooly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) during a biology lab at the college’s Creekside Field Station in 2005. McCullum discovered the 12-foot-long tusk while conducting a freshwater mussel survey. The mammoth may have been one of the last of its kind in the region. Carbon-14 dating determined the animal died about 11,500 years ago, well after the glaciers had retreated from Illinois. During that time, the habitat associated with M. primigenius had changed from the typical open steppe tundra habitat to a closed canopy forest dominated by ash and spruce trees. Since mammoths inhabited mostly open tundra or parkland areas, this discovery caused scientists to reexamine the relationship between these animals and their habitats.
Further exploration by Judd, his classmates, and their professor, Dennis Campbell, revealed additional pieces of the skull, upper jawbone, and teeth. The tusk is now on display at the McKinstry Memorial Library on the Lincoln College campus. The detail of the broken bone shows the honeycomb structure inside that made them stronger without adding too much weight to the already massive skeleton. If the elements of the skull were solid bone, imagine how much heavier the animal’s head would be! Light, strong bones are necessary for these large animals to stand up against gravity and move about the landscape.