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Owosso Mastodon Finally Ready For Exhibit Here

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Owosso Mastodon Finally Ready For Exhibit Here

By Gertrude Haan

After two years of work, the Owosso mastodon, huge 15 by 7-foot prehistoric monster, has been pieced together and now is on display in the University Museum’s Hall of Evolution.

Preparation of the mount, the most complete and best preserved skeleton of its kind ever found in Michigan, was supervised by Dr. Ermine C. Case, professor-emeritus of vertebrate paleontology, and Dr. Claude W. Hibbard, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology. It was executed by William H. Buettner, preparator of the Museum staff.

The Owosso mastodon, discovered by a ditch-digger, derives its name from the fact that it was unearthed at a farm near Owosso in 1944. It probably lived in that vicinity as long as 20,000 years ago, according to Dr. Lewis B. Kellum, director of the Museum of Paleontology.

Once Numerous

Mastodons were numerous in Michigan and the central states during the period known as the Pleistocene or "ice” age, Kellum said, and some 150 authentic specimens have been found in Michigan alone. Most of them were discovered in former swamp areas where the huge animals must have bogged down while feeding on the abundant vegetation. During the latter stages of the ice age the glacier receded northward across Michigan.

Also found in large numbers farther south, the mastadons apparently lived along the ice front and followed the retreating glacier northward across the country, Kellum explained.

The University Museum also has on exhibit three additional skulls of mastodons found in Michigan, and bones of some half-dozen others. One of the skulls, also discovered by a ditch digger, was recently donated to the Museum by Mrs. Beulah King of Hartford and her sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Acton of Glendale, Calif., owners of the farm in Berrien county where the skull was found.

The lower jaws of a protomastodon, biologically intermediate between the mastodon and a mammoth, also were given recently to Dr. Hibbard, who now is on a collecting expedition for the Museum. The fossil was the gift of a farmer in Nebraska. It will be placed on exhibit in the hall of Evolution when ready, probably within the next two months.

Basis Of Law Suit

Peculiar to the Owosso mastodon, in addition to being the most complete skeleton of its kind found in Michigan, is the fact that it was the cause of a law suit between the ditch digger who found the bones and the farmer on whose land they were found. The farmer, Michael Remenar of Rush township in Shiawassee, was finally awarded the skeleton and sold it to members of the Museum staff who had come to Owosso to investigate.

Another distinguishing feature of this prehistoric skeleton is the broken left tusk—broken while the animal was alive, Dr. Kellum said. The broken end was subsequently worn smooth again, indicating that the mastodon used the half tusk during his life time.

Because the tusks are too heavy to be lodged in the mount—a single tusk weighs some 15 pounds—the skeleton is equipped with imitation papier mache tusks, while the originals are displayed in one of the nearby exhibition cases.

Approximately the size of an average circus elephant, the mastodon differed from his "cousin” in dental structure and also in his hide which was covered with a heavy coating of wool.

The Owosso mastodon is a female specimen, as indicated by its relatively small head, short tusks, and broad pelvis. Approximately three-fourths of the total number of bones in the skeleton were found, and the missing parts were modeled in plaster by Carleton Angell, University artist.

Dr. Ermine C. Case (left), professor emeritus of vertebrate paleontology, and William H. Buettner (right), preparator of the Museum staff, examine the University Museum’s 15 by 7-foot Owosso mastodon, which is the most complete skeleton of its kind found in Michigan.