World’s most-complete mastodon debuts in science center
The remains of Ice Age mastodons have been found around the globe, including the U.S. Midwest. The rarest of these discoveries is now the easiest to view as a life-size skeletal cast of “The Burning Tree Mastodon” – the world’s most-complete American mastodon – is on permanent display in the Hanover College Science Center.
Mastodons, prehistoric relatives of today’s elephants, roamed every continent (except Antarctica and Australia) for millions of years. The herbivores thrived in the woodlands and wetlands of North and Central America. Remnants of these massive creatures have been discovered in nearly all of Indiana’s 92 counties and more than 150 finds have been unearthed in Ohio. Only a small percentage have been categorized as “semi-complete.”
“The Burning Tree Mastodon” was originally discovered Dec. 12, 1989, during the dredging of a bog at the Burning Tree Golf Course in Heath, Ohio. The skeletal structure, considered 90-95 percent intact, stands 10-feet tall and stretches 20-feet in length. The prehistoric animal, determined to be a 30-year-old male, dates more than 11,000 years before present time.
These fossilized remains were excavated by the Ohio History Connection, Licking County Archaeology and Landmarks Society, golf course staff members and volunteers from several organizations. In addition to the extent of the skeleton’s completeness, the discovery has also shed light for scientists in other areas.
Grooves and slash marks on the ribs signaled the mastodon had been hunted for food by Paleo-Indian tribes. The discovery helped prove the theory that hunters would surround the enormous beasts and force them into a peat bog, which took away the animal’s ability to quickly escape.
Further examination determined the mastodon’s lower spine and right rib cage showed healed injuries interpreted by scientists as the result of battles with other mastodons. In addition, muscle and cartilage were still attached to some bones and living bacteria was discovered in the animal’s digestive system.
The original “Burning Tree Mastodon” sold for more than $600,000 in 1993 and currently resides in Japan. Hanover’s cast, named “Sandy” on campus, has been shown throughout Ohio and was previously housed in a museum at the Burning Tree Golf Course.
“Sandy” now joins “Tinker,” an immense cast of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, on display on the second floor of Hanover’s science center. Funds to purchase both rare casts were provided by the Ross Hubbard Geology Gift Fund, which has supported the College’s museum collection since 2000.