North

Alaska man sentenced for stealing fossilized mammoth tusk

An Alaska man will serve nearly three years in federal prison for stealing a fossilized woolly mammoth tusk and cutting it up to sell for profit.

Thieves used a rock to break a window and open a door at small Anchorage museum

Crowds gather to look at a tusk and a tooth from a woolly mammoth on display at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Ill., in 2016. Martin Elze was sentenced 33 months in federal prison for the theft of a woolly mammoth tusk from a small Bureau of Land Management museum in Anchorage, Alaska. (Seth Perlman/AP)

An Alaska man who stole a fossilized woolly mammoth tusk and sliced it into pieces for resale will serve nearly three years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason on Thursday sentenced 52-year-old Martin Elze to 33 months for the theft of the 1.7-metre tusk from a small Bureau of Land Management museum in Anchorage. Gleason also ordered Elze to pay $8,385.82 in restitution to the Campbell Creek Science Center.

Elze in December pleaded guilty to one count of removal of a paleontological resource. An accomplice, Gary Lynn Boyd, pleaded guilty in January and will be sentenced May 15.

The woolly mammoth is Alaska's official state fossil. The intact tusk was worth $7,000 to $9,000, according to federal prosecutors. Artists carve pieces for jewelry or small sculptures.

The tusk was displayed at the BLM's Campbell Creek Science Center, a popular destination for Anchorage schoolchildren, and visitors could touch the tusk.

Pat Druckenmiller, director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, said after the theft that mammoths generally died out at the end of the Pleistocene Era 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. A few survived on islands such as Wrangel Island off northeast Siberia until about 4,000 years ago, he said.

The stolen tusk was one of several found in the mid-1980s near the Colville River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean north of the Brooks Range.

The curved tusk was mottled dark- and light-brown, about 20 centimetres in diameter on the large end and 15 centimetres in diameter at the narrow end.

Elze and Boyd on March 17, 2018, visited the small museum and asked staff about the tusk's weight and authenticity, prosecutors said. One night later, they returned. Boyd used a rock to break a window and open a door, causing $1,385.22 in damage.

The museum's video surveillance system recorded the theft.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.