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Mastodon bones in West Michigan could add new piece to prehistoric puzzle

Sergiodlarosa via Wikimedia Commons
This rendering is a graphical reconstruction of Mammut americanum, a.k.a. an American mastodon, based on bone structure and paleontological texts.

A construction crew working at a housing development site south of Grand Rapids in late August uncovered an underground surprise: the bones of a prehistoric creature that walked the earth 11,000-14,000 years ago during the Ice Age. Those bones belonged to an American mastodon and now they’ve been donated to the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. 

Michigan Radio "Morning Edition" host Doug Tribou spoke with U of M Professor of Paleontology Dan Fisher, who is also the director of the museum. Fisher has more than 40 years of experience in the field. 

Last year in Chelsea, a farmer discovered a set of woolly mammoth bones. We asked Fisher to explain the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon.

"A mammoth is a much closer relative of modern elephants. They share a common ancestor with common elephants just about 6 million years ago. Mastodons, in contrast, are a more distant cousin of modern elephants. You'd have to go back more like 25 million years ago to find the most recent common ancestor of mastodons and modern elephants," Fisher said.

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