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No longer ancient history: Woolly mammoth returns to University of Illinois for the first time in over 10,000 years

The woolly mammoth statue sits in between the Natural History Building and the Illini Union on the University of Illinois campus.

CHAMPAIGN – After an over 10,000-year absence, the woolly mammoth is finally back on the University of Illinois campus. 

A 16-foot-tall sculpture of a mammoth was installed last week in between the Illini Union and the Natural History Building. The sculpture could serve as a reminder that mammoths lived in Champaign-Urbana, University of Illinois professor Stephen Marshak said. 

“A mammoth could have been standing at that latitude and longitude 30,000 years ago,” Marshak said. 

The sculpture was funded by the Art in Architecture program — which requires large federal building remodels — including the Natural History Building — to use a portion of funding for art. 

When deciding what kind of artwork to install, Marshak said a woolly mammoth came up because it’s dramatic but shows the history of Illinois. Additionally, he said the Natural History Building has housed mammoth remains in the past. 

Stephen Marshak, a University of Illinois geology professor, shows a photo of a mammoth excavation site in his office in the Natural History Museum on Friday, March 24, 2023. Farrah Anderson/Illinois Newsroom

Although it’s often forgotten, Marshak said Champaign-Urbana was part of the Ice Age thousands of years ago. 

“At the peak of the ice advance, Champaign-Urbana was completely covered by hundreds of meters or more of a glacier,” Marshak said. “And it’s not that long ago.” 

There are future plans, Marshak said, to name the mammoth and install landscaping around the sculpture that is similar to plants from the Ice Age.

Illinois-based design firm Taylor Studios designed the sculpture and the University of Illinois Facilities and Services installed it. Sean Henley was the lead sculptor and Angela Norton was the lead painter. 

The sculpture, Marshak said, can serve as a reminder for current and future generations of the history of the land and the creatures who lived here. 

“What we’re hoping is that when students and the public walks by, they will realize there’s a history to this landscape that goes back well before the first human inhabitants,” Marshak said. 

Farrah Anderson is a journalist and student at the University of Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @farrahsoa.

Picture of Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson is a student at the University of Illinois studying journalism. At Illinois Public Media, Anderson works as a general assignment reporter and produces and hosts the 217 Today podcast.

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