Cornell Gilbert Mastodon
Gilbert Mastodon studied at PRI
In 2000 Cornell University's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences acquired what may be some of the most complete and well-documented fossil remains of extinct mastodons ever found in New York State. Cornell's Gilbert mastodon is now at PRI, where the bones have been prepared and studied. Several of the bones are on exhibit at Cornell University in Snee Hall, home of Cornell's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences..
Amanda Erwin, Cornell University graduate student, looks at the teeth of the mastodon.
The cleaned bones arranged for scientific examination at PRI.
The bones were found in northern Chemung County, just south of Watkins Glen, about 30 miles from Ithaca, in September 1999. The site was excavated by a team headed by John Chiment, a paleontologist with Cornell's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The group included more than 60 scientists, students, and volunteers throughout the fall. The find actually includes the remains of at least one mastodon and possibly a less-complete mammoth. The known mastodon is, estimated to be a 35-year-old male animal, and is more than 80% complete. Altogether, more than 200 bones were recovered from the site. Preliminary dating indicates that the animals lived betwen 10,000 and 14,000 years ago.
On a visit to PRI on 3/31/01, Cornell Professors John Coleman (far left) and Nerissa Russell (far right) talk to students in the Practical Archaeology class about the complex history of the bones from the Chemung site.
"Chemung" is the name of a river that flows through the area. It was apparently named by the region's most recent Native American residents, the Cayuga Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, after a fossil tusk they found in the riverbank.
The bones were purchased by Cornell from the landowners and moved to Ithaca on December 30, 1999. The fossils are being housed for study, preparation, and public display at PRI. Work on the bones has been organized cooperatively by Cornell and PRI, and the process is visible to the public in PRI's public exhibit facility as an ongoing exhibit.
Educational programs for elementary and secondary schools using material from the discovery have been made a priority. Known as the Mastodon Matrix Project, samples of the mud collected from the dig site have been sent to school groups and other interested parties as far away as Alaska and Europe. This material has been exhausted, but due to the overwhelming demand, a similar project has been set up with material from the Hyde Park Mastodon and North Java excavation sites.
Mastodons are extinct relatives of living elephants. They roamed much of North America until about 10,000 years ago. Native Americans are known to have hunted mastodons. Preliminary inspection of the bones from Chemung County suggest that they were not butchered by tools of Native Americans. Marks on the bones appear to indicate having been trampled by other animals living at the time.