The CT scanner at Gritman Medical Center in Moscow was recently used to examine bones that are much older than what it's used to seeing.

Roughly 10,000 to 12,000 years old, to be more specific.

In a unique partnership, a University of Idaho research team is using Gritman's CT scanner to examine mammoth bones. 

Last weekend, the team scanned a series bones in what marked the first time the hospital's machine has been loaned to UI's geological sciences department, UI faculty said.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said UI geology professor Renee Love. "We're really able to image and visualize internally what’s happening with the bones and fossils.”

The bones, which include a tusk, come from a mammoth that was excavated in the 1960s in Southeastern Idaho. 

The bones moved among various locations before arriving at the Palouse Discovery Science Center where it served as an educational tool, according to Love. The bones were eventually given to the University of Idaho.

The mammoth was likely a juvenile and possibly died in a hotspring deposit roughly 11,000 years ago, said Love. 

At that time, the animals were under great stress due to the environment and possible human interaction. 

“This is a really phenomenal species," she said.

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More details on the mammoth's life and background will hopefully be gleaned from Gritman's CT machine, the UI team hopes.

A CT scan (short for computed tomography) allows for a detailed examination of body parts using a combination of x-rays and a computer. Gritman's machine has never been used by UI geological sciences faculty or students, Love said.

By using the machine, Love and a team of students will search for markings on the mammoth bones that may indicate certain stressors or human interaction. 

“Whether there are cut marks or even stone tools that are embedded within the bone,” said Love of possible scenarios. 

Love noted that the CT scanner would allow them to look "internally" into the bones, too.

“I just love ancient stuff. It’s always been an interest of mine,” said Shilah Loosle, a UI senior studying under Love. “It’s definitely kind of inspiring to be able to work with something that’s this old.”

Love indicated that the group's project would mark the first time their specific set of mammoth bones had been scanned using a CT machine.

“It’s almost like opening up a really interesting book and you don’t know what you’re going to find on those pages," Love said. "But you know what you’re going to find is really exciting and there’s going to be a really good story behind it.”

Mammoth bones at the University of Idaho
Mammoth bones at the University of Idaho

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