GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Public Museum and University of Michigan researchers have solved a little more of the mystery surrounding a set of mastodon bones unearthed near the Kent-Newaygo county line.
Last month, a road crew in Kent County was replacing a culvert along 22 Mile Road in Kent City when their excavation came to a standstill: They had found a three-foot-long femur.
Researchers from the University of Michigan later confirmed workers had discovered the remains of a mastodon.
Last week, Busscher Development and the GRPM recovered 32 more bones belonging to the prehistoric, hairy elephant from dirt the road crew had scraped off the site, known as a spoil pile. The museum said the spoil pile had just been removed when the construction team found the first bone.
“(We thought) maybe we ought to just check that again, to see if there’s any bones, smaller bones that we didn’t notice before we hit the larger ones, and sure enough, there were,” said GRPM President and CEO Dale Robertson.
Robertson says all the bones belong to a mastodon that was between nine and 11 years old when it died.
Researchers determined the young mastodon lived about 11,000 years ago. The museum says its remains were not found in “life position,” meaning the mastodon likely died at a different location.
Grand Rapids Public Museum science curator and paleontologist Dr. Cory Redman led last month’s excavation and worked with U of M researchers to help plot the coordinates and order of the discovered bones.
Robertson said the U of M team won’t be the only ones studying the mastodon.
“Apparently that’s pretty rare to have a young mastodon that’s found. There’ll be other institutions that’ll be interested,” he said.
Altogether, they recovered about 60% of the mastodon’s bones – not enough to piece together vertically, but a sufficient amount to lay out on display.
“We do have a lower jaw. We don’t have the skull or a tusk. And boy, do we wish we would’ve had that. But still, it was … just a wonderful thing,” Robertson said.
The creature has been dubbed “the Clapp family mastodon” because its bones were discovered on farmland that’s been in the Clapp family for generations.
“We want to keep it right here in West Michigan, so we thank them for that. I mean, it is really generous and a really cool donation,” Robertson said.
Redman is working with Dr. Daniel Fisher and Dr. Scott Beld from U of M to carefully clean and dry the bones. Robertson says it’ll take about a year for the bones to dry out before they can be displayed. During that time, the museum’s educational programming team will be working on unique ways to share how the Clapp family mastodon was discovered, excavated and preserved.
The remains were not found in “life position”, meaning the animal most likely had not died in that location.
Grand Rapids Public Museum is already home to the remains of two other mastodons. The nearly complete set of bones belonging to Smitty was discovered in Muskegon and pieces of another mastodon were uncovered years ago elsewhere in Kent County.