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French Museum to Restore Two-Million-Year-Old Mammoth Skeleton

French Museum to Restore Two-Million-Year-Old Mammoth Skeleton

Tuesday, 24 November, 2020 - 08:30
A complete mammoth skeleton is displayed before its auction by Aguttes auction house in Lyon, France. | Photo: Reuters

In an exceptional workshop that acknowledges its value and history, the Museum of Natural History in Paris is prepping to restore a two-million-year-old mammoth skeleton of its possessions. The skeleton belongs to an instinct animal from a species of huge elephants that lived in central Europe. Over its 120-year display in the museum, this mammoth skeleton has been the star of the paleontology gallery attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.


The skeleton is four meters long and seven meters wide, and it weighed 10 tons with its flesh, muscles, and bones. Engineer Paul Cazalis de Fondouce and archeologist Jules Ollier de Marichard found it in 1869, when they were conducting digging works to open a small route in the Durfort commune, southern France. They unearthed a bone that led them to the remnants of the animal that got extinct over one million years ago. According to Cécile Colin, who has worked at the paleontology gallery for 12 years, this skeleton is valuable because it's complete, unlike the other similar unearthed structures including bones scattered by the wind, soil activity, or waters of nearby rivers.


Over the past decade, the skeleton was studied and examined tenth of times and by dozens of scientists, who reached many possible scenarios of the mammoth's extinction during the last ice age. Some suggest it suffocated after it was stuck in a muddy region and failed to adapt to the climate changes. Since its discovery and display on a special platform in the Museum of Natural History in Paris, the skeleton adapted to its new place, but with time, many cracks appeared on some of its bones which may be caused by previous restorations done using wax in a non-scientific way.


The new restoration campaign is set to take place in the museum workshop and external workshops. First, the skeleton will be dismantled, and its parts will be sent to restoration experts who will clean each bone using soap and water, and sometimes acetone; then, they will enhance the bones and remove all the former harms and aging factors. It's a long process that includes many challenges and needs too much patience, especially when dealing with the huge number of bones that range between 250 and 300.


Due to pollution, dust, and millions of hands that messed with its bones in the absence of the museum guards, this rare skeleton needs cleaning and restoration. The process is expected to take nine months, starting next summer to early 2022. It will be similar to restoring an expensive painting from the Renaissance period.


The public has the opportunity to fund the restoration campaign through a dedicated website for donations. A thousand donors applied to contribute as soon as the operation was announced. Donations ranged between 5 euros and 5,000 euros and amounted to 80,000 euros so far, out of a total of 400,000 euros needed to rejuvenate the bones of the extinct animal. In addition to donations, the museum is selling 3D printed mammoth samples for 300 euros each for those who might like to own one.


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