University researchers excavate mastodon remains at Grand Rapids construction site

Thursday, September 7, 2017 - 3:10pm

University of Michigan paleontologists are investigating a construction site in Byron Township, Michigan, after workers excavated the fossils of what appeared to be a giant prehistoric mammal Aug. 31.

According to the Associated Press, University researchers identified the remains as bones from a mastodon. Eagle Creek Homes, the home-building company developing the site where the bones were found, contacted Prof. Dan Fisher, director of the Museum of Paleontology.

Fisher wrote in an interview the bones are relatively well preserved, and appear to be from an adult female specimen. At this moment, University researchers have excavated part of the lower jaw, part of the skull, some limb bones, part of the pelvis and some neck vertebrae.

Mastodons roamed throughout the North American landmass until their extinction 10,000 to 11,000 years ago. Mastodon and mammoth discoveries are not uncommon in the state of Michigan; Fisher estimates two to three discoveries are made in the state each year.

In October 2015, another mastodon fossil was discovered in Chelsea, Mich. in a soybean field. The skeleton was later donated to the University to be studied and later put on display. 

Eagle Creek Homes currently holds five large pieces of the mastodon skeleton, as well as a few smaller pieces.

Fisher said the fossil’s fate is currently unknown. He explained the fossil first needs to be preserved, cleaned and dried. The owner may then choose to keep it local or donate it to the University. However, it may be a while before students can view the bones. 

“The Museum of Paleontology, as organized currently, does not itself have a public exhibit area for recent finds,” Fisher wrote. “This may work differently when we move into the new Biological Science Building during the course of next year.”