Mastodon Camp

by Carl Strang

 

Over the past two summers I have had the opportunity to participate in a paleontological dig at Pratts Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in northwest DuPage County. This excavation, conducted by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and the Field Museum of Natural History, was prompted by the discovery of three mastodon molars and some bone pieces during wetland restoration work.

 

Photo courtesy Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Photo courtesy Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

 

The dig is being structured as an education opportunity for area residents. Teachers and high school students have been the core participants in the first two years. There have been tours, presentations and half-day dig opportunities for members of the general public.

 

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During the first summer, the main products were large numbers of small tusk and bone fragments.

 

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In 2008 the digging revealed some small buried trees.

 

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Wood samples are being analyzed, but two black spruce cones were found among the trees.

 

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As I mentioned in my account of last fall’s glacier retracing trip, that tree species no longer grows this far south, but was here in this mastodon’s time 11,500 or 12,000 years ago. These paleobotanical discoveries fill in some of the picture of the local environment as local climate warmed after the glacier melted away.

 

With the major bones still waiting to be found, there is plenty of motivation to resume the dig when circumstances permit.

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