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York County Mastodon Being Preserved at Virginia Living Museum
By Nancy E. Sheppard

Masto image16,000 years ago, Virginia would have been virtually unrecognizable by those of us today. It’s frigid, late last Ice Age climate and frozen grounds boasted spruce and fir trees. Giant elephant-like creatures with tiny ears and long, curved tusks roamed alongside sabertoothed cats, large ground sloths, and dire wolves. And it was in York County where one mastodon died and buried by ground erosion over the years.

In 1983, brick mason, Lawnell Hart, was hiking through the woods near Yorktown, searching for game. He spotted an unusual rock protruding from a creek bed. He knew that this wasn’t an ordinary rock and called Jerre Johnson, a geology professor at the College of William & Mary, to come take a look. What ended up being unearthed were two hundred fossilized bones belonging to none other than a mastodon. This was an incredible discovery, with only one other mastodon found in Virginia and this being the first east of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We learned quite a bit about this particular mastodon. The creature’s large teeth showed that it struggled to eat and had a large dent which indicated that the mastodon suffered from tooth decay. But it has been a struggle for advocates of the fossilized remains to obtain appropriate funding and conditions in order to continue to preserve and study the mastodon. Recently, the discovery was added to The Virginia Association of Museum’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts list.

Recently, the fossils were gifted to the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. The museum has a dedicated mission to understanding, preserving, and educating the historical and modern natural conditions and creatures from Virginia. With a recent intense interest and focus on the pre-historical era of the Commonwealth, the museum opened the wildly popular Dinosaur Trail behind the museum where guests can learn more about dinosaurs and other creatures that roamed the earth thousands and millions of years ago.

The museum has begun the arduous task of preserving the bones. They note that this could take years due to the fragile condition of the fossilized remains. However, they are excited and dedicated to one day sharing York County’s very own mastodon with museum guests in years to come.

 





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