Local Angler finds more than Fish in the River – Mastodon bone found

On our school visits, team members at Everything Dinosaur point out to children that many important fossils are not found by professional palaeontologists but are found by ordinary folk who stumble across them, in many cases literally!

Take the story of 37 year-old David Boyers of Highland Heights in Kentucky, USA, who on a river trip with his girlfriend and young son stumbled across a fossilised Mastodon ulna (fore-leg bone).

They had decided to take a canoe trip on their local river, the South Fork of the Licking river, which is a tributary of the larger Ohio river.  Pulling into a quiet cove they started  to do some fishing, David was wading in the shallows trying his luck when he spotted an unusual looking log on the river bed.  Picking up the soggy, lichen covered  item; he jokingly yelled to his partner “Look at the size of this dinosaur bone”.

On closer examination it did look like a huge bone, so he resisted the temptation to discard it; placed it into the bottom of the canoe and later returned home with it in the back of his truck.

Over the next few days David examined the “bone” and slowly he became convinced that he had discovered something extraordinary.  The broken end of the item seemed to have the texture of bone marrow so David became more and more convinced that he had found some sort of fossil.

A quick examination by the local experts at the nearby Behringer-Crawford museum confirmed that David had indeed found something very special, but for a formal identification he was referred to the palaeontologists at the Cincinnati museum.

Still fearing that he might have wasted everybody’s time, David held his breath as Dr Glenn Storrs, the assistant Vice President at the Cincinnati museum; the resident natural history specialist carefully examined his find.

The “log” was not a dinosaur bone, but the partial right ulna (a bone found in the fore-leg; equivalent to one of the bones found between our elbow and wrist); of a giant prehistoric elephant.

The elephant, a Mastodon roamed this area of the United States approximately 20,000 years ago, in what was a warmer inter-glacial period as the Pleistocene epoch drew to a close.

Dr Storrs has commented on the remarkable state of preservation, speculating that the lack of abrasion indicates that it only recently had been deposited in the river.  Perhaps it had fallen out of an eroding river bank as the winter thaw set in and been washed down stream with the rising waters.  David has decided to donate the bone to the Cincinnati museum adding it to their extensive collection of Ice Age mammals.

The bone is in such an excellent state of preservation, that it may be used in future DNA analysis in a bid to try and determine how closely related extinct animals such as the Mastodon were to living pachyderms.

Dr Storrs and his team at the museum receive dozens of reports of strange finds each year, most turn out to be unusual rock formations, or inorganic mineral deposits, even the remains of modern animals have been mistaken for fossils.  However, Dr Storrs stated that one or two finds each year prove to be something that is of genuine value to science.

You never know keep looking…

Read other articles on Mastodons at Everything Dinosaur’s blog:

Huge Extinct Elephant Tusks Discovered in Greece

DNA Breakthrough in the Tooth of an Extinct Elephant

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