A mammoth lab at the Indiana State Museum is the final resting place of many things prehistoric—and the heart of the exhibit Ice Age Giants: The Mystery of Mammoths and Mastodons, opening Nov. 16. Tens of thousands of fossils stored here represent the remains of ancient Hoosier critters. Ron Richards, senior research curator of paleobiology, picked a few of his favorites, all from Pleistocene Age mastodons, which roamed Indiana 10,000 to 100,000 years ago.
Most Beautiful Skull
This lady turned scientists’ heads with dainty tusks and a gorgeous, well-preserved cranium—in contrast to the more-rugged skulls of male counterparts.
“A farmer found it while putting in a pond.”
—Ron Richards, paleobiologist
The hunk this specimen belonged to suffered broken ribs and a problem spine, but his well-maintained tusks no doubt helped in battle and wooing female companions.
Finding a complete set of hyoid, or throat bones, is a huge find. These belong to Fred, a mastodon discovered in Fort Wayne (and pictured at the bottom of this page). Watch CSI and you learn that the human hyoid is often broken during strangulation. That wasn’t a problem for mastodons; getting rammed in the chest by another animal was.
This thigh from a Kewanna mastodon measures 45 inches long and weighs 54 pounds—and this big boy wasn’t done growing when he died as a young adult. Like modern elephants, mastodons could live 60 years or more, but few made it to retirement.
Best Baby Tooth
The tooth fairy would have to dig deep to reward this young mastodon for a chomper the size of a golf ball, used to feast on Ice Age delicacies such as leaves, bark, and swamp foliage.
Fred says: "I’m, like, more than 13,000 years old!"
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue.