Updates from the Lab By: Monica Bugbee
This past summer, we removed a mammoth skull from the bonebed. The process (which you can read more about here: http://mammothsite.com/the-mammoth-site-excavates-a-mammoth-skull/) was complicated and lengthy, but it was only the just the beginning of the fun! Now begins the long process of preparation. But before we can remove the plaster jacket from the skull, there is something else we have to take care of. When the skull was removed, a small section of the nuchal crest was damaged. Because the skull was located on such a steep slope, we were unable to dig completely underneath and incorporate this one small section into the jacket, and so some pieces were left behind in the bonebed.
I collected all the remaining fragments of bone, and sorted out all the pieces of the skull’s exterior surfaces. The fragments are very fragile and will crumble if not handled properly. Before I could attempt to fit the pieces back together like a massive jig-saw puzzle, I had to treat each individual piece with preservatives. This ensured the fragments could be handled without further damage.
Many of the pieces broke with clean edges, and were easily matched back together. Others are more complicated to fit with their partner, and many of the fragments are very small. When the fragments become difficult to match, there are several clues which can help lead you in the right direction. The color and texture of the bone along both the broken surfaces and the exterior surfaces are very important when looking for corresponding pieces. The color and texture of any sediment or mineral deposits adhering to the bone can be equally helpful, but as with most tasks in fossil preparation, the most important things are patience and persistence!
Once these fragments are back together in one piece, they will have to wait to be rejoined to the rest of the skull. Preparation of the jacketed skull will begin in the next few months and may last over a year.