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TJSL’s Mammoth Discovery

August 5, 2010

Why do we have an image of mammoths on our website?

It’s because one of the most improbable coincidences ever occurred right here at Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s new downtown campus.

While construction crews were excavating the new site, a backhoe operator struck something hard. It turned out to be the tusk of a 300-thousand year old Ice-Age mammoth that was buried in the soil for all those thousands of years!

Paleontologists unearthed both tusks and the skull of the mammoth, in what they describe as a highly significant fossil find.

What made the find such a coincidence was that one of the most ardent scholars of ancient mammoths was none other than President Thomas Jefferson, after whom our law school is named.

Jefferson not only had a “bone room” in the White House where he collected the skeletons of these ancient giants, but he fully expected the Lewis & Clark expedition he sent into the wilds of undiscovered North America to encounter live mammoths during their journey.

“As the father of American paleontology, Thomas Jefferson would be ecstatic that the school that carries his name has such rich paleontological discoveries,” said TJSL Dean Rudy Hasl.

The discovery of the mammoth attracted world-wide media attention to the law school and its fledgling construction project.

Only weeks after the mammoth was removed by the San Diego Natural History Museum paleontologists, lightning struck again. Ten feet directly below where the mammoth had lain, workers found the skeleton of an ancient California Gray Whale. It was about 500-thousand years old and was an ancestor of the gray whales that migrate off the San Diego coast each year.

Amazingly, the paleontological discoveries didn’t slow construction of the new building in the least. Crews continued to excavate in other parts of the dig site and it was full-speed ahead. Other, smaller fossils were discovered during the digging, but nothing like the mammoth and the whale.

What becomes of the treasure trove of fossils? Some of the bones are on display at the museum in Balboa Park and there is a display case in TJSL’s library with part of the mammoth’s tusk, a molar and several other bones.

Parts of these ancient creatures, however, will always be at the law school site where they have rested for hundreds of thousands of years.

The museum is donating one of the whale’s ribs for display in the lobby of the new law school building, as well as some of the eons-old seashells, like the giant scallops that were hidden in soil that used to be ocean floor. Other shell fragments from the dig have been ground up to become part of the floor tiles in the lobby of the new building, where everyone who enters the law school will be literally walking on ancient history.

It all seems to fit together so perfectly—the law school named after the president who treasured the bones of giant creatures and the fossils that will be part of the law school as long as it stands.