A juvenile mastodon that lived 13,000 years ago in Michigan has found a new home at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, where visitors can marvel at its bones and learn about its ancient past.
The skeleton, which is 80% intact, was unearthed by chance last year by workers digging a drainage ditch on private property in Newaygo County, about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. The Clapp family, who own the land, decided to donate the bones to the museum, where they are now part of an exhibition called “Ice Age: Michigan’s Frozen Secrets.”
Mastodons were elephant-like creatures that roamed North America during the Pleistocene epoch, along with woolly mammoths and other megafauna. They were shorter and stockier than mammoths, with shorter and less curved tusks. They went extinct about 10,000 years ago, possibly due to climate change, human hunting or a combination of factors.
The museum’s science curator, Cory Redman, said the discovery of the skeleton was “amazing” and “really, really impressive,” especially because of its high degree of completeness. He said finding more than 20% of a mastodon’s bones is rare, so finding 80% is “absolutely fantastic.”
Unfortunately, no tusks were found and only a partial skull, which is displayed under glass near a large photo of the excavation site. Redman said the skeleton belonged to a juvenile male mastodon that was between 10 and 20 years old when it died. Radiocarbon dating showed that it lived around 13,210 years ago.
The museum’s CEO, Dale Robertson, said the exhibit aims to educate visitors about the Ice Age and its impact on Michigan’s landscape and wildlife. He said the mastodon bones are a “wonderful gift” to the museum and the community.
“We’re very grateful to the Clapp family for their generosity,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to share this incredible story with our visitors.”
The exhibit also features other creatures from the Ice Age, such as saber-toothed cats, giant beavers and dire wolves. It also includes interactive elements, such as touchable fossils and casts. The exhibit runs until May 2024.
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