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Hunting the Great Mastodons
By Ms. Sharon Combs

Geologists discovered that four glaciers once moved southward across the Miami Valley. The first one covered the valley some 500,000 years ago, and the last one began melting 50,000 years ago. The time of the glaciers is known as the Ice Age.

The last trace of the Ice Age in the Miami Valley is found at Cedar Bog State Memorial Park, southwest of Urbana in Champaign County off route 68. This bog was formed over 10,000 years ago, as the Ice Age was ending. A lake fed by spring water developed in an old river valley filled with limestone gravel. Vegetation grew over the shallow lake's surface and some of the plants of the Ice Age continued to grow. Cool, alkaline springs provide the bog with an even temperature throughout the year and support the brook trout, the spotted turtle and the swamp rattlesnake.

Rare plants at Cedar Bog include yellow lady slippers, star flowers, alder-leaf buckhorn, bellwort, small native orchids and others. The sun dew and the pitcher plant feed on the insects of the bog. Wild fowl are found there such as the ring-neck pheasant, the American bittern, the marsh owl and the yellow rail.

In pioneer days Cedar Bog covered about 7,000 acres, but the settlers burned off the vegetation, cleared and drained the rich land for agriculture. By 1910 only 600 acres remained, and this was reduced to 50 acres before the State of Ohio realized it was losing a great natural resource. In 1942 the state purchased 100 acres of bog and forest land, and in 1971 added another 100 acres. A board walk trail has been built over the bog so that visitors may view this last, small piece of Ice-Age Ohio that is still with us.

One of the animals in Ohio during the last of the ice age was the great mastodon, who had replaced the wooly mammoth. An almost complete mastodon was found in Licking County, Ohio, December 12, 1989 while excavating for a pond on the Burning Tree Golf Course in Newark, Ohio. This mastodon was named the "Burning Tree Mastodon."

Being 11-foot tall, 15-foot long makes this one of the most complete mastodon skeletons found (95 percent of the bones were recovered—missing were the back leg, tail and most of the toe bones), it is the third largest mastodon ever found. Its stomach contained eight species of live bacteria once thought to be extinct, and DNA from its intestinal material is currently being sequenced so that it can be compared to DNA of present-day African and Asian elephants

Flint markings on the Mastodon's ribs shows not only did humans exist during this era but were sophisticated enough to bring down a 10,000 pound beast. Scientific evidence indicates the 11,600 year old “Burning Tree Mastodon” was slain by Clovis people 9,600 years before humans were thought to inhabit the area. Weapons thought to be used were the Atlatl and spears. Long brown hair protected his body against the cold of the Ice Age, and this same fur coat probably protected early man. The mastodon, as well as the people of that time, lived along the edges of the retreating glaciers that moved down the Miami Valley.

Another example that shows us early people not only hunted but preserved the mammoth meat for use is found at the Heisler site in Michigan. Mastodon remains here show that the intestinal contents consisted of ovoid masses of sand and gravel (maximum diameter, ca. 30 cm) interspersed between plant debris. These ovoid masses occurred along with bones in a peaty area and are thought to be made by prehistoric humans. Such anchors were apparently used to help hold mastodon carcass parts on the pond bottom, or keep them tethered to a chosen area in the pond, as a primitive and effective plan for winter storage of meat.

Hypothetically, these anchors were formed by filling short lengths of mastodon intestine with sand and gravel. Judging from their size, the anchors were presumably made from segments of large intestine. The plant material consisted of chewed and partly digested material that apparently lined the walls of the large intestine at the time sediments were placed into the intestinal lumen. Pollen analysis of intestinal contents from the Heisler site indicated autumn as the time of death.

Indian legends tell of the great beasts which once roamed the valley. Early pioneers finding the giant teeth of the mastodons thought that the molars belonged to a race of giants, as one 4-pound tooth had a cavity which held a pint of water.

Remains of mastodons have been found in various parts of the valley, with one found on a farm field near Urbana and partial remains of another discovered in Darke County. A mastodon's tooth was found near Franklin, Ohio.


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