The Seattle mammoth tusk – a first hand account

Photo from Burke Museum Facebook page.

Photo from Burke Museum Facebook page.

Whether you were caught up in the ballyhoo over last week’s mammoth tusk find in Seattle, or not, you may find a first-hand report by UW biology grad student Dave DeMar of interest. Dave was one of the small crew who excavated the tusk. Click to read Dave’s posting. Also, here is a link to a Burke Museum Facebook page with a number of photos of the excavation and rescue: including cute kids cheering and showing their fan club banners. Prominent in the photos are advertizing banners hung in the pit by the various contractors associated with the construction project. Thanks to David B. Williams for sending these links to me via his excellent GeologyWriter blog. His analysis of all the hoopla is great; heck, his blog is always a good read. I’ll repeat his kudos to the construction workers who knew to stop when they uncovered the first glimpse of the tusk in the excavation.

The rescue of the mammoth tusk brought back fond memories of the discovery and rescue of the fossil footprint of the giant bird Diatryma fromthe Chuckanut Formation near Kendall, Washington in 2010. Here is the page that links to all the stories on this blog about that fun adventure!

Racehorse Landslide Fossil Beds- big rockfall; trail is brushed out

George Mustoe (WWU Geology Department) visited the famous Chuckanut fossils in the Racehorse Fossil Beds a few days ago. He sends a report  on trail access. (If you aren’t familiar with this place up the Nooksack east of Bellingham, this is the site of the 2009 landslide that exposed the 11-inch-wide foot prints of the 300 pound, 7-foot-tall flightless bird Diatryma, and a host of other animal tracks and plant fossils from the 55-million-year-old Chuckanut Formation. Directions follow George’s trail report. There are many reports on this website about the fossils and the landslide. Go to the older posts and pages.

George’s report:

The largest of the blocks in the 2013 rockfall.

The largest of the blocks in the 2013 rockfall. Click to enlarge any image.

A few days ago I went to Racehorse slide with Gary Coye. We took some gardening tools, and trimmed branches that had grown up along the way trail. There’s presently a clear trail route all they way up from the parking area to the ridge crest, at least until the branches grow back. As for driving, the gravel road is the best I’ve ever seen it in terms of being smooth. This is the first time I’ve been to the slide this year, and I was surprised to see the big rockfall on the scarp face that  must have happened this past winter. I’m attaching some photos, Some of the biggest rocks came from the top edge of the cliff, and carried down intact vegetation. You can see Gary standing on one of the largest blocks, and the scar on the face where the rockfall originated.

The 2013 rock fall came from the upper end of the vertical landslide scarp.

The 2013 rock fall came from the upper end of the vertical landslide scarp.

How to get there:

Google Earth scren capture, looking south

Google Earth scren capture, looking south

These directions are current as of June 23, 2013. Drive the Mount Baker Highway east from I-5 in Bellingham 17 miles to the junction with Mosquito Lake Road. Turn south (right). Cross the North Fork Nooksack, and turn left on the North Fork Road. Set your odometer to 0.0 here. This paved road eventually becomes gravel. You will notice some big blocks and hummocky terrain along the road at about 2.2 miles, the hallmarks of landslides. These are the deposit of a large prehistoric landslide that reached the Nooksack, dwarfing the 2009 slide. The hillsides above  have slid multiple times since the end of the last glacial period, and the mountain itself is called ‘Slide Mountain’. Follow the mainline to a major junction immediately before the bridge across Racehorse Creek, 4.1 miles. Turn right on this gravel logging road, and begin climbing. In about 0.2 mile, you may note a trailhead on the left, with parking on the right. This goes through the woods a couple of hundred yards to the rubble-choked course of Racehorse Creek. A quick trip out this trail reaches the stream. You can walk up-stream a few hundred yards to the lovely multi-tiered water fall.

Continue up the road beyond the trailhead. You will pass  a few side roads, but stay on the main line. Turn sharp left  5.1 miles from Mosquito Lake Road. This left turn is just after a white ’1′ painted on a tall tree on the right, in a clump of woods. The road switchbacks up; pass a couple of minor semi-overgrown spurs to the left.  and is blocked at a fork 5.7 miles from Mosquito Lake Road. 48° 52.295′N, 122° 7.455′W. Walk up the left fork, blocked by deep ditches and mounds of gravel; a trail passes around the right side of these obstacles. Walk up the road 100 yards to the next switchback swinging to the right, next to a high pile of logs. Here is where you take a path into the clearcut, just as the road swings right. The elevation is approximately 1450′, and there is a nice view out to Kendall and the North Fork from here. The entire field trip is on Washington State Department of Natural Resources timber lands. Total driving time from Bellingham is less than an hour. Please consider taking some pruners with you to help keep the trail open, especially where it leaves the road.

The trail reaches the now overgrown landslide debris field in a hundred yards. Here is where to start looking for plant fossils in the broken shards of rock. This is a small ‘overspill’ of the January 2009 landslide. The slide scarp is up the slope and out of site beyond the skyline ridge crest. Pick your way up the ;landslide slope around fallen trees, rock blocks and brush to the skyline, about 200 feet higher. Now you can see the rock face of the scarp to the right, and the upper part of the deposit in the basin below you. The main body of the slide went to the left (east) and down into Racehorse Creek.

Diatryma paper is published

By Dave Tucker November 15, 2012

The giant bird foot track as originally found in the Racehorse Creek landslide. Click to enlarge.

A journal paper about the giant Chuckanut bird tracks attributed to Diatryma giganteus has been published. The authors are George Mustoe, Dave Tucker and Keith Kemplin (George and Keith are the codiscoverers of the tracks). The paper is published in the journal Palaeontology. This enlightened journal allows dissemination of papers via the internet, rather than requiring purchase. So, I am pleased to attach the pdf in this post. It will also be attached to the main page about the giant foot prints. It describes the fossil tracks, why we believe they were made by the giant flightless bird Diatryma, what the tracks tell us about the lifestyle of the big bird, and why we assigned the name Rivavipes giganteus to the tracks. The paper should be readable to about everyone, as specialized terminology is kept to a minimum other than references to the anatomical parts. Click this link to open the research paper pdf file:      Giant Eocene Bird Footprints paper, Palaeontology

New Eocene painting at WWU Geology museum

The corridor geology exhibits at WWU’s Geology Department features a new diorama by Marlin Peterson. He earlier painted a Diatryma to go along with the giant bird’s footprint on display.(time lapse video of his effort painting the giant bird). The new painting is on the first floor of the ES building, just beyond the western set of elevator doors.

Photo of a digital painting by Marlin Peterson - tapirs stalked by creodonts. Click to enlarge.

Marlin’s painting is of an Eocene tapir protecting its baby from a hunting pack of creodonts. Footprints of both have been found in the Chuckanut Formation, most recently in the rubble of the Racehorse Creek landslide (where the Diatryma tracks came from, too), and the fossil tracks of both are mounted on the wall next to the new mural. (I’ll be featuring the WWU geology museum in my book, Geology Underfoot in Western Washington. The chapter is written, and has been reviewed by George Mustoe and Keith Kemplin).

More cool stuff in the WWU Geology Museum. This is a collection of petrologic microscopes. These are on the ground floor.

It’s a treat to visit Marlin’s  website to see what else this talented artist has done. Though he is traveling in Indonesia right now, having all manner of incredible adventures swimming with manta (ooooh, funny, MS Word tells me this should be ‘mantra’)  rays and barracudas and fighting leeches to climb volcanoes in the jungle, Marlin will eventually drag himself back to paint a gigantic wall mural in Tacoma featuring a daddy long legs spider. Scroll down on his website to read about the grant he received to do this, and to see an idea he has for the painting. Marlin has some great stuff posted on his website, be sure to scroll down further. The one that caught my eye was near the bottom, a painting of a monkey being carried across the Atlantic on a fallen tree back in the Oligocene (23-34 million years ago). Fascinating to read Marlin’s account of this theory for the radiation of “old” world monkeys to the “new”. Curious we still use those relativistic terms, when all the continents were once agglomerated into Pangea.

 

The WWU Geology Museum is in the corridors of the Environmental Studies building, on the Ground, First, and Second floors. It is open to the public 7 days a week while classes are in session. On weekends, you may need to enter on the First Floor off Haskell Plaza, at the building’s NW corner.

Additions to the Chuckanut fossil gallery at WWU Geology

Tracks of a heron-like bird in the Chuckanut Formation. Thanks to the anonymous woman who allowed me to use her finger for scale.

A number of new rock slabs with fossilized foot prints of Eocene animals have been added to the Chuckanut fossil display at WWU. Visit the webpage on Northwest Geology Field trips.

The exhibit contains new sets of tracks of the giant flightless bird Diatryma, carnivorous creodonts, herons, tapirs, and a goose-like bird, as well as a Diatryma skull reconstruction and two original Eocene dioramas by Marlin Peterson.

Go straight to the webpage.

Sequim mammoth believed killed by humans

The Manis Mastodon bones on display at the MAC Exhibit Center. Photo by Robert Cooper.

The Sequim Gazette trumpets (sorrrrrry, couldn’t help it!) the news that a mastodon discovered there in 1977 was hunted and butchered by humans 13,800 year ago. This is the oldest demonstrated date of human hunters in North America, and helps bury the long-held “Clovis first” theory. The research appeared in Science 21 October 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6054 pp. 351-353  DOI: 10.1126/science.1207663.

The paper was written by a cast of thousands (seems like it, anyway) headed by Michael R. Waters of the Center for the Study of the First Americans (Departments of Anthropology and Geography) at  Texas A&M University.

Here is a summary of the Science paper,  written by Andrew Lawler of the journal’s editorial staff:

Pre-Clovis Mastodon Hunters Make a Point

On page 351 of this week’s issue of Science, researchers report new analyses of the remains of a

Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University The mastodon rib with the embedded point near the end of the bone.

mastodon found in the 1970s with a bone spear point in its rib. Scientists used DNA and radiocarbon dating to demonstrate that the point came from a mastodon bone shaped into a weapon by humans and used a startling 13,800 years ago. That’s nearly 1000 years before the Clovis culture, long considered to be the first culture in the New World. The find adds to the wave of recent compelling evidence demonstrating an earlier, pre-Clovis settling of the Americas. Although a few Clovis-first holdouts remain unconvinced, the early bone point also suggests that the extinction of large mammals such as mastodons and mammoths may have begun long before the Clovis people came on the scene.

The paper’s abstract reads:

“The tip of a projectile point made of mastodon bone is embedded in a rib of a single disarticulated mastodon at the Manis site in the state of Washington. Radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis show that the rib is associated with the other remains and dates to 13,800 years ago. Thus, osseous projectile points, common to the Beringian Upper Paleolithic and Clovis, were made and used during pre-Clovis times in North America. The Manis site, combined with evidence of mammoth hunting at sites in Wisconsin, provides evidence that people were hunting proboscideans at least two millennia before Clovis.”

The projectile point is about 10 inches long, and had been sharpened.

The Sequim Gazette’s article has two great illustrations, showing views of the projectile and the bone it penetrated.

The “Manis mastodon” was found by Emanuel “Manny” Manis of Sequim, Washington. It is on the register of National Historic Places, but is private property. Fossil bones recovered from the site are on display at the Sequim Museum and Arts Center, located at 175 W. Cedar Street in downtown Sequim.  It is open from 9AM to 4PM Monday through Saturday. This museum is filled with  local historic exhibits.  They have a model of the diggings, a video, and some displays.

Oregon Live web article on the Manis Mastodon exhibit.

King 5 news report (video and article).

A Wikipedia article on the Manis Mastodon.

Racehorse Landslide fossil fields- access update

The trail through the clearcut leaves the road about 100 yards from where the road is now blocked off.

Since completion of logging adjacent to the Racehorse Creek fossil fields (Chuckanut Formation), the road has been blocked off about 100 yards below the trail- a tad less driving, a tad more walking. There are big berms built across the access road, but you can walk around them on the right, through the bushes. See the updated webpage here. I’ve highlighted changes in red. The big Doug fir at the end of the trail has died a slow death, smothered in the 2009 landslide debris, but it still makes for a good landmark to find the trail back out. The landslide is rapidly getting overgrown with fireweed and the like, but there are still plenty of fossils to be found. Today, I met a group of students from Harvard University geology department there, on their summer field course. All the way from Harvard to see our fossils. Imagine that. They found the place by stumbling across this website on the internet. Ain’t that somethin’?

If you go, consider taking some garden pruners to help keep the trail open. I brushed the trail today, but it can always use a little help.

Diatryma painting time lapse video

Diatryma track discoverers George Mustoe (left) and Keith Kemplin at the display in WWU's ES building. Click to enlarge.

Marlin Peterson has made a new portrait of the 7-foot-tall flightless Eocene bird Diatryma. He donated a print to go along with the fossilized footprint we have on display at the WWU geology department. To see a youtube time lapse of Marlin making the painting, click here. It is pretty entertaining. Marlin’s painting reflects the new interpretation of the giant bird’s life style based on the foot prints found in the Chuckanut foothills a couple years ago.

Find links here to stories on this webpage about the discovery, rescue and display of this fascinating fossil footprint.

Diatryma skeleton and foot bones at Museum of Natural History, New York.

Source area for Leschi erratic?

Reader Wes Gannaway, a paleontologist in Bellingham, suggests the source area for the bivalve-bearing Leschi erratic could be the rocks around Harrison Lake, BC. He has only seen the photos posted here of the fossils in the erratic, so this is remains a hypothesis only, but I think it is a reasonable one. I have started a separate page in the field trips portion of this website just for this erratic, and will add new info to it as we all learn more. That page is here.

Wes wrote:
“The gray siltstones are along the shore of Harrison Lake and contain
an assemblage of ammonites and clams including the Buchia crassicola, which
I believe are the dominant Buchia species at Fossil Creek in the Nooksack
Group. The formation borders on the Cretaceous/Jurassic boundary, age
equivalent to the Nooksack Group. The fossils are abundant in the Mysterious
Creek Formation. C.H. Crickmay wrote a paper in 1930 on the locality. His
paper names them Aucella sp. and Jeletzky named them Buchia, although
I don’t know enough about the species to identify which one is in the
boulder. Aucella is also found in the Jackass Mountain area. Someone with
the knowledge of the species should take a look at the fossils in the
boulder. I am just looking at the photo and using the general shape and rock
color to call it Buchia from Harrison Lake.”

Thanks for that, Wes. Here’s some more information: (ain’t the web wonderful?)
Here’s another blogger’s post about fossil hunting in the Mysterious Creek Formation. And this blog has photos of large Buchia fossils, including this one.


Further web investigation turns up this abstract of a 1983 UBC MSc done by Andrew Arthur on stratigraphy and fossils in the area. If you follow the above link to the thesis abstract, you’ll find a download file of the entire thesis as a pdf. In it are many photos and drawings of fossils, mostly ammonites, found in the Mysterious Creek and related formations.

As a source region for the Leschi erratic, the Harrison Lake area makes good sense. The Vashon ice flowed south right through there. Any paleontologists out there who want to take a crack at this problem?

Update on the Exotic Erratic at Leschi Park, Seattle

In late February I posted an article about a fossil-rich erratic at Seattle’s Leschi Park, described by Darryl Howe.

Here is an updated report, by Doug McKeever, Whatcom Community College geology instructor. Check out Doug’s fun website here.

The Nooksack Gp rocks are the polygons labeled 'N' in this clip from the Mount Baker 30 x 60 USGS map. Mount Baker is at left center. Skagit valley is the yellow area running across the bottom.

I briefly visited this erratic on March 6. It is clearly visible directly west and uphill in the woods (recently cleared of most undergrowth by trail crews) from the small parking lot by the tennis courts.  I took pictures but they don’t show anything that Darryl’s don’t show.  It is indeed “chock full” of bivalve fossils.  I am not enough of a paleontologist to know them, nor could I recognize the formation from which the erratic came.  It looks similar to Nooksack Group rocks I have seen in the Mt. Baker area….it is fine-grained (very fine sand or silt) and appears to be well sorted and not particularly well stratified.  The rock is weathered, as one would expect from sitting in the woods in a humid climate for about 13 or 14,000 years since being dumped by ice.  Curious folks have hammered at a few chunks that are lying nearby.  This is a fascinating find, the likes of which I haven’t seen among several thousand erratics personally observed from the Fraser Glaciation. It  is worth further investigation by paleontologists (George Mustoe, are you reading?) and sedimentary petrologists.   I wonder if anyone from UW has seen and described it.

DT adds: The Nooksack Gp. rocks are known from the vicinity of Mount Baker; not all are fossiliferous.  The best known fossil localities are from the argillite at Fossil Creek (south of Church Mountain) and in bedded siltstones on Chowder Ridge, at the south end of Skyline and Cougar Divides. If this erratic is from the Nooksack Group, it would have been carried out the Skagit (or conceivably via the Nooksack) and into the main stem Vashon ice covering the future Puget Lowland. That is at least 95 miles in a reasonable path via the Skagit.

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