Students Help Field Museum, DuPage County Forest Preserve Extract 11,500-year-old Mastodon
For Immediate Release
Contact: Field Museum PR Department
(312) 665-7100, email@example.com
Students help Field Museum, DuPage County Forest Preserve extract 11,500-year-old mastodon. A rare hands-on experience could lead to exhibit or scholarly publication, or spark interest in scientific careers.
CHICAGO - July 13, 2007 - Up to 40 students and teachers from more than 20 schools in Chicago and the suburbs will help scientists uncover the 11,500-year-old fossil of a mastodon recently found at Pratt's Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in DuPage County.
The media is invited to cover the story and experience the excitement of a real scientific excavation on August 3, 2007 from 11-4pm—the first official dig day of "Mastodon Camp!" The public will have the chance to visit the dig site the following week during public tours August 7-10.
The mastodon, an extinct relative of the elephant, was one of the mightiest beasts to ever march across Illinois. It existed from about 3.8 million to 10,000 years ago and was common during the Ice Age, when the Midwest was covered by glaciers. Participants will learn what the landscape tells us about Illinois' past, what fossils tell us about evolution and climate change, and how we can restore and protect the fragile ecosystems that we depend on today.
They will also learn about the scientific method of inquiry and how scientists study the past, including excavation methods, fossil preparation, soil sampling and ground penetrating radar. The students, ranging from 8th to 12th grade, will learn by doing and be introduced to career options in the natural sciences, including paleontology, restoration ecology, forestry and land preservation.
"We believe that anyone can do science," says Richard Kissel, scientific program developer at The Field Museum, and one of the leaders of Mastodon Camp! "Scientists are just adults who never gave up that childhood curiosity and wonder regarding how things work."
"We hope this program will give students a unique, hands-on experience as well as a foot in the door in an area of science that may not necessarily be introduced in their schools," he added.
This fossil was discovered in August 2005 by Forest Preserve workers who were restoring the area to a wetland. At that time, only three molars, a few pieces of tusk and a rib bone were removed for study. This time, scientists hope to discover how big the animal was and how complete the specimen.
"The fossil the has the potential to teach us a lot about mastodons and the area, in particular since at about 11,500 years old, it could have been one of the last animals in the region before the species became extinct," Kissel said. "This is important scientific research that might lead to the publication of a scholarly report or an exhibit."
Mastodon Camp! will last two weeks. Classroom work and visits to the Field Museum will precede and follow the actual excavation work. The dig will proceed rain or shine, and the work will continue next summer.
"This program is special," says Tom Pray, Education Outreach Manager at the Forest Preserve, "because the excavation will be conducted by the general public, under the supervision of professionals. This will be real science, conducted in real time, by every day people."
"People love fossils," added Pray. "They have all heard of discoveries in far away places. This discovery was made in their back yard and it will touch them where they live."
The public will have a chance to experience the fossil dig during public tours of the excavation site that will run August 7-10, 2007 at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00p.m.
Additional information regarding the dig can be found at www.fieldmuseum.org/expeditions, an interactive website that tracks Field Museum research expeditions around the world. Scientists at Mastodon Camp! will file written, photographic, and video dispatches daily from the site, which will allow the public to follow the dig's progress. The public can also subscribe (for free) to receive the dispatches via email.
Support for this project provided by The Grainger Foundation.
Directions to dig site, from Chicago:
- I-90 (Kennedy Expressway) west to Route 59 (Barrington, IL).
- Route 59 South (left turn) to Stearns Road (West Bartlett, IL).
- Park at the visitor center at 2054 West Stearns Road, Bartlett, on the north (right hand) side of Stearns Road, west of Powis Road.
- It's a short walk to the dig site.
Mastodon Camp! Program Overview
Mastodon Camp! will be divided into three basic components. Pre-excavation training will include three five-hour classes that will focus on the tools and trade of paleontology, the geology of Illinois, the fossils of Illinois and restoration ecology which will take place at The Field Museum on July 30, 2007 to August 1, 2007. A combination of classroom activities and lectures led by Museum and Forest Preserve educators and scientists will introduce students and teachers to background information and prepare them for the excavation. In addition, students and teachers will explore some of the Museum's other exhibitions such as Evolving Planet, Plants of the World, World of Mammals and The Ancient Americas. The program will also include discussions on career options within the natural sciences.
The second portion of the program will be the actual excavation of the mastodon on August 2 - 3, 2007 and August 6 - 10, 2007. During this time, students and teachers will work side by side with scientists to extract the mastodon remains from the ground. The excavation will occur over seven days, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Students and teachers will learn how scientists use snails to track climate change and soil patterns to determine the history of Illinois landscape. Museum and Forest Preserve team members will also focus discussions and education on land preservation and possible career paths for interested students.
The conclusion of Mastodon Camp! will be Saturday, August 11, 2007 following the excavation. Students and teachers will return to The Field Museum for a day-long "wrap up" session, which will introduce students and teachers to the steps following fossil excavation, conservation and exhibition. Awards and certificates will also be distributed to students and teachers who have successfully completed the camp.