MAYVILLE, Mich. — A farmer who two years ago picked up a mastodon bone in a creek is a member of a team of researchers, teachers and graduate students taking part in an archaeological dig in Michigan’s Thumb area to unearth more bones from the extinct animal.

Seth Colling, a part-time teacher at the Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning, a year-round camp for children and adults with special needs, told the Times Herald in Port Huron ( that the dig for mastodon bones is “a dream come true.”

Colling was on his knees Saturday at the site on the Fowler Center property, uncovering with trowel and bare hands another large mastodon leg bone. Mastodons are extinct relatives of modern elephants that roamed Michigan about 10,000 years ago after the glaciers had pulled back from the Lower Peninsula.

Daniel Fisher, professor of paleontology and director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, said mastodons were browsers, feeding on leaves, twigs, berries and such. Fisher directed the dig this weekend, and the team will return next weekend.

Colling said he and his students were looking for fish in the creek two years ago when they found the bones.

“I thought it was a weird piece of firewood. I said, ‘What is that?’ and one of my students jumped in and pulled it out,” he said.

He said the student also pulled a vertebra from the weedy water.

Since then, paleontologists have collected more pieces of the mastodon that have eroded out of the creek bank.

Fisher said there have been about 300 mastodons discovered in Michigan — most of the finds comprising a few bones and teeth. He said it’s rare to find a nearly complete specimen such as the one at the Fowler Center.

“We’ve already got more at this site than most of these other sites give us,” he said.

Fisher also said the site is special because the bones are still in the ground; paleontologists usually aren’t called in until someone notices bones or teeth sticking out of a spoils pile at an excavation for a structure or road.

The mastodon likely was in its mid-30s, not yet fully grown, Fisher said. The bones don’t appear to be from an animal that died of natural causes.

“It’s what you get if the butcher, instead of separating it out and packaging it out by anatomy, just threw it in a pile,” he said.

Information from: Times Herald,

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