Contractor Digs Up 14,000-Year-Old Mastodon Skeleton In Neighbor's Backyard

Via Tsuji / Flickr. AMERICAN MASTODON (MAMMUT AMERICANUM)

Sure, finding a bone in someone’s back yard is pretty cool and probably worth telling your friends about. But imagine the excitement when that bone turns out to be the remains of a 14,000 year old prehistoric mammal. That’s exactly what happened recently to contractor Daniel LaPoint Jr. who had been digging up his neighbor’s garden in the US last year.

LaPoint’s discovery began last November when he noticed something massive jutting out of a pile of earth he had excavated from a property in Bellevue Township, Michigan. That something turned out to be a 4-foot-long rib bone, gray with age. Initially, LaPoint thought that the curved bone belonged to a dinosaur, so he excitedly alerted the owner of the property, Erik Witzke, and the duo decided to team up to see what else they might find. After spending four days sweating in the dirt, they unearthed an impressive total of 42 bones.  

The team then decided to seek an expert’s opinion on the find, so they contacted scientists at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, who immediately became interested in their discovery. Daniel Fisher, director of the museum, then visited the site and examined the remains. Rather than belonging to a dinosaur, Fisher determined that the owner of the bones was actually a mastodon, a relative of the prehistoric mammoth that lived some 30 million years ago, during the Oligocene, until around 10,000 years ago.

Fisher believes that the mastodon was likely a 37-year-old male that lived between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. The bones also showed signs of being hacked away at by humans, who would have dined on these animals long ago. “Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans,” Fisher told Lansing State Journal.

While LaPoint’s discovery is certainly remarkable, it isn’t uncommon to find the remains of mastodons in Michigan. So far, more than 300 confirmed mastodon bones have been unearthed in the state, although only two were found last year. However, many of the discoveries haven’t been quite as fruitful as LaPoint’s, as some people only found a single tooth or bone fragment. The new find included several ribs, leg, shoulder and hip bones, and part of the tusk.

Although the bones would be worth a considerable amount of money, LaPoint and Witzke decided to donate the majority of them to the museum, but they’re keeping a few to display at home to remind them of this awesome experience. “The scientific value is really the new perspective, the new information, that specimens like these can bring,” said Fisher.

But before they were transported to the museum, the pair took the bones to a local school so that kids could share this once in a lifetime experience. “All the kids got to pick them up and hold them,” LaPoint told Lansing State Journal. “To change one kid’s life because they got to touch it, I think, is an incredible opportunity.”

[Via Lansing State Journal and PopSci]

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