Mastodon Tusk Analysis Project

Mastodon Tusk Analysis Project

Associate Professor: Joshua A. Sebree

In the fall of 2016, the University of Northern Iowa Museum was awarded a $306,258 heritage grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust for the "Scientific Study, Conservation, and Interpretation" of a mastodon tusk held by the museum. The UNI Museum has established a partnership with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry led by Assistant Professor Joshua A. Sebree. During his upper level undergraduate fall CHEM 4310 Instrumental Analysis class, he plans on using samples of the Hampton mastodon tusk to run elemental composition tests. The class was designed as a way for students to understand how analytical instruments work, the proper way to use instruments, and how to perform independent research while collecting publishable results. Over the course of the following three years, the tusk will be cleaned, analyzed, and preserved along with records of the process for eventual permanent display at UNI. To do so the chemical nature of the tusk must be known in as much detail as possible.

The mastodon tusk has been dated to be from either the Aftonian or Yarmouth age (120,000 to 200,000 B.C.E.) and has been housed at the university since 1933. Since then, it has undergone several conservations with mixed results prior to the current attempt. Currently, it is known that the tusk (originally ivory) is highly carbonized. The tusk may have been painted with lead containing paint (lead white) in the past as a store-bought lead test came back positive. Questions have been raised as to whether asbestos was ever used on the tusk, either in preservation or storage. The tusk has also suffered water damage to parts that will need treatment before proper preservation can occur.


Browse the Mastodon Tusk Analysis Project Collections:

Mastodon Tusk Background Material

Mastodon Tusk Background Photo Gallery

Mastodon Tusk Project Data Sets

Mastodon Tusk Project Posters