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A Mammoth Discovery at AMLI South Lake Union

Mar 7th, 2014

While working on a South Lake Union apartment development site on February 11, 2014, construction workers happened upon something that was unlike the dirt and rock they generally dig through: A fossilized mammoth tusk. Aware of the significance of their find and the care with which this relic from the past should be handled, the construction crew and staff at property owner AMLI Residential contacted Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. By afternoon on Valentine’s Day, the fragile tusk had been carefully excavated and transported via flatbed truck to the Burke Museum.

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The Find

Tuesday, February 11 started out just like any other day for the workers involved in the construction of AMLI’s newest luxury apartments in South Lake Union. By the end of the day, it was anything but. Digging 30 feet below ground level, construction workers found something unusual and immediately alerted supervisors. Across the street at AMLI 535, Regional Manager for AMLI’s Seattle area properties, Alison Keck, was preparing to leave work for the day when she heard the news: “I was caught off guard, surprised,” said Keck, describing her reaction. After letting it sink in for a moment, she shared what she had heard with other colleagues. A combination of their laughter and the unlikely story led Alison to the conclusion that this must have been some kind of prank.

The helicopters and news crews across the street told a different story.

An Admirable Collaborative Effort

Once alerted to the mammoth tusk discovery, AMLI executives immediately halted construction on the project and contacted paleontologists at Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. In line with its commitment to the communities in which it builds and manages upscale apartments, AMLI partnered with the Burke Museum to properly excavate the tusk found on its land. The two entities have been working together ever since.

On February 14, a team led by vertebrate paleontology specialist, Dr. Christian Sidor, successfully extracted the fossilized tusk from the AMLI South Lake Union site. While this partnership has dominated headlines associated with the find, The Home Depot also deserves some credit for its contribution. A local branch of the national home improvement store reopened its doors after closing and donated 100 pounds of protective plaster to the cause. The enthusiasm with which Seattleites have responded to the find adds to the collaborative feel of the event.

Significance and What the Future Holds

The fossil found is believed to belong to a Columbian mammoth, a subclade of the legendary wooly mammoth. With a length measuring eight-and-a-half feet, the South Lake Union fossil is the largest and most complete tusk known to be found in the Seattle area. The Burke Museum’s paleontologists estimate the tusk belonged to a mammoth that lived between 16,000 and 22,000 years ago, but it is conceivable the fossil is as many as 60,000 years old! While it could be up to a year before carbon-dating and other identification tests are carried out on the fossil, Seattle residents and visitors don’t have to wait so long to see the tusk for themselves. It will be on display at Burke Museum on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the month of March. Visit the museum for Dino Day this upcoming Saturday, March 8!

Help name the SLU mammoth! The mammoth needs help remembering his (or is it a her?) name…it’s been a long time. Let’s figure it out together. At Dino Day, Burke Museum and AMLI Residential will announce the rules for a contest that will determine the name for the mammoth, which at present is affectionately referred to as SLU Mammoth.

As far as AMLI South Lake Union is concerned, not much has changed. “The excavation will cause us some construction delay, but the scientific and educational benefits of this discovery clearly outweigh the costs and delay. This is an exciting discovery for our local Northwest history,” explained Senior Vice President Scott Koppelman.

Do you have a creative or fitting name in mind? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to submit your name to the Burke Museum!

Visit to learn more about the South Lake Union mammoth tusk. 

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