The Big Picture: Mammoth Proportions

Students head to classes past the 12-foot-tall, 15-foot-long woolly mammoth sculpture. More than 13,000 years ago, woolly mammoths walked the grounds that now make up the campus at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. To honor that history, a life-size mammoth sculpture was installed outside the southwest corner of the Natural History Building. (Image by Fred Zwicky)

Raising its prehistoric trunk to the sky between the Illini Union and the Natural History Building, the latest sculpture on campus recreates a likely inhabitant of Illinois long before the state existed. Woolly mammoths roamed the Earth during the Pleistocene Epoch, but their double layer of long, shaggy fur helped them survive the Ice Age in many places. The 16-foot-tall statue—fashioned from metal and carved foam—weighs 3,500 pounds and “is scientifically accurate right down to the jaw shape and the toenail color,” says Stephen Marshak, U of I professor emeritus of geology, who championed adding a Mammuthus primigenius to the Main Quad. “At the peak of the ice advance, Champaign-Urbana was completely covered by hundreds of meters or more of glacier,” he says. “A mammoth could have been standing at that latitude and longitude 30,000 years ago.”