- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) - University of Idaho archaeologist Lee Sappington held two plastic Ziploc bags in his hands Wednesday containing the latest mystery for him to unravel.

Inside - sheathed in brown paper sacks - were fist-sized chunks of bone, which on the exterior looked very much like the rocks at his feet.

Sappington believes the bones may have come from the leg of a mammoth that could have roamed the region 12,000 years ago.

“In this case, I can’t tell you it’s a mammoth. I can tell you it’s a really big animal,” Sappington said. “It’s mammoth-sized. That’s a fair way of saying it. I haven’t confirmed it yet.”

The recent find during construction of the Port of Clarkston Turning Pointe Business Park has complicated work on the new home for manufacturers and their suppliers.

Workers spotted two bones 12 feet underground and 12 feet apart when they were digging a trench for sewer lines March 13. One broke, revealing a perforated and porous interior.

Sappington wonders if they were at one time connected by another very long bone that deteriorated.

“You can see the marrow,” he said.

The Port of Clarkston halted work in the vicinity immediately and summoned Sappington to the 60-acre construction zone.

“They did the right thing,” Sappington said. “They were following protocol.”

Sappington was about to give his students a test but managed to arrive before the close of business. He began creating a plan.

He consulted with the Nez Perce Tribe and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Mother Nature cooperated in a way, raining out construction until Tuesday, after Sappington had obtained the authority he needed to start.

Once he arrived, all work resumed because his two excavation areas are on either side of the sewer trench, each about 2 meters square.

Crews removed soil to a depth of about 10 feet deep in the two holes. Sappington and four graduate students followed, doing the tedious work of excavating by hand to the depth where the bones were found.

He’ll be able to identify the animal definitively if they locate a tooth.

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