The fossilized remains of a 37-year-old male mastodon were found in Eaton County, Michigan during a routine excavation this past November. Contractor Daniel LaPoint Jr. found himself in a once in a lifetime adventure when he unearthed the gargantuan remains. Over the course of four days, LaPont with the help of his neighbor Eric Witzke, dug forty-two bones out of the backyard that LaPoint had been working in. Initially, the men thought they had stumbled upon the remains of a dinosaur, but upon examination by paleontologist Daniel Fisher it was confirmed that they were from a younger, but still prehistoric beast: a mastodon.
Mastodons, the ancient ancestors of elephants, roamed North and Central America during the Pliocene period before going extinct. The remains unearthed by LaPoint are thought to be between 10,000 and 14,000 years old, although further examination will yield a more exact date. The skeleton is one of over three hundred to have been found in Michigan, two of which were in the past year. The bones collected by LaPoint and Witzke include parts of the animal’s ribs, leg, hip, tusk and vertebrae.
After inspecting the bones, Fisher, who is also the director of University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, postulated that tool marks found upon them may suggest that the mastodon was butchered by humans. The extinction of the mastodon is thought by some to be partially due to the increasing pressure of hunting by early humans. The species died out during a mass extinction, which has been attributed to the expansion of humans and included most of the large animals, or Pleistocene megafauna, of the period. However, some speculate that changes in the climate, namely freezing temperatures, not human intervention, led to the mastodon’s demise.
After successfully exhuming the mastodon, LaPoint told the Lansing State Journal that, “Digging and finding the bones for the first time, it’s not something that can be replicated. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
To share the experience, LaPoint took the bones to a local middle school, so that the student could glean a closer look and handle the specimens. The bones have since been donated to the U-M Museum of Paleontology and viewing them require a trip to the Ann Arbor research museum. The majority of the mastodon will be displayed and studied there, but a few will remain with LaPoint and Witzke as a keepsake from that eventful day.