Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mastodons and Woolly Mammoths

The kids and I went to the Conneaut Lake Historical Society today to see the Mastadon bones. Over 50 years ago, mastodon bones were discovered at the lake. Some of the largest bones were recently returned from Allegheny College in Meadville to the Historical Society in Conneaut Lake. A map at the museum shows the 5 or 6 locations around the lake where mastodon and woolly mammoth bones have since been discovered. We were told, in fact, that this lake area has the largest concentration of mastodons in the country. The bones were indeed impressive. One tusk alone was 5' long. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take pictures, but you can read more about the mastodons in the Meadville Tribune article below.

Artifacts from area's biggest residents return

By Jane Smith

July 09, 2009 10:11 pm

CONNEAUT LAKE — A little over 50 years ago, Conneaut Lake resident Ted Moyers and several other men were excavating a site on the south end of the lake when they saw something that puzzled them. In the debris they were churning up, what they first believed to be old tree trunks turned out to be fossilized bones — very big ones.
When experts were called in to check out the discovery, the bones were determined to be those of mastodons and woolly mammoths, prehistoric mammals that once roamed North America.
The bones were taken to Allegheny College to be properly preserved, but were seldom seen again.
On June 29 of this year, Moyers’ son, Dr. Robert Moyers, sat attentively on a wooden folding chair, listening to a program at the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society. Those big bones were among the topics discussed. Before the night ended, Moyers was stunned to learn the bones his father had unearthed in 1958 were coming back to Conneaut Lake to be displayed at the society’s museum on North Third Street. The college was returning them to Conneaut Lake to be made into a permanent display at the museum.
Saegertown resident Sam Harrison, a retired geologist and professor from Allegheny, was guest speaker at the program, discussing the glacial era, and detailing how Conneaut Lake was formed. He also described how these huge animals once roamed the area.
Tens of thousands of years ago glaciers moved across the region, and these huge ice masses created deep valleys, streams and rivers. During that period, some of the detached pieces of ice became buried. As the ice melted, it left deep impressions in the ground and one of those impressions became what now is known as Conneaut Lake — the largest natural lake in Pennsylvania.
That glacial period, also called “the last ice age,” began about 100,000 years ago and end about 10,000 years ago. As the ice slowly subsided, mammoths and mastodons called this area their home for many centuries. The huge beasts were large, elephant-like animals, and they resembled each other, but they were distinct from one another. The ice age ended, and both species eventually became extinct.
On tables next to Harrison lay an assortment of bones — the largest one weighing about 100 pounds. As Harrison picked up the specimens, he described what they were and how to tell whether each was from a mastodon or a mammoth.
As he and about 70 others listened to Harrison’s lecture, Moyers said later, “I thought how very fascinating the glaciers were” and conjured up images of “mammoths and mastodons that roamed the site. And some of the skeletons are still in the lake, not discovered yet!”
Moyers recalled how Edward Parsons, an Allegheny College professor, was contacted and worked with his father’s group to verify the findings. Since there was no historical society or any organization at the lake to keep the bones, it was determined they would be better kept at the college — where they have been stored since that time.
Moyers said he wasn’t part of the original dig. Instead, he was working nearby putting in docks. But he remembers the incident well from the summer just before he went to school to pursue his medical degree.

Mammoths came to mind
When the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society was formed 10 years ago, some of the collecting and research the members were doing reminded them about the bone dig. Last spring the society’s president, Bobbie Moyers (Bob’s wife), and others from the faculty and staff at Conneaut Lake Elementary School began to study woolly mammoths. Marcia deKramer, principal, was familiar with mammoths and she was successful in soliciting the assistance of teachers and other staff to help provide lessons for the children.
At the same time, Bobbie Moyers and Jean Shanley of the society’s exhibit committee began working with Allegheny to purse the possibility of having the bones on display at the museum. Phil Ness of the college’s administration became the facilitator of discussions.
Earlier this year, Harrison spoke to a group of school students and learned of their interest and of the society’s interest in seeing the bones, so he became involved. However, he didn’t tell anyone in advance of the June 29 program about the college’s decision.
After presenting his program, he asked Bobbie Moyers to come forward, and then presented her with an agreement that gives the society the items on “permanent loan.” Moyers and other members of the society in attendance were surprised and thrilled to add the valuable artifacts to the society’s collection.

What’s in the new collection
Among the items from the college are a curved tusk approximately 60 inches long, a slightly curved tusk, a leg bone, partial mammoth jaw bone, mastodon teeth and more.
Donating the bones back to a Conneaut Lake group “was the right thing to do,” said Ron Cole, head of Allegheny’s geology department. “The fossils are from the Conneaut Lake area. They are valuable to the community to see this geological history of the area. We’d like as many people as possible to have the opportunity to see them.
“It will be good for elementary and middle school students to have an opportunity to see. Some of the bones remain in display at the college. We gave the historical society the bigger ones,” he said.
And it’s a gift the society is determined to now share with as many visitors as it can.

Smith, a retired Meadville Tribune reporter, is a member of the Conneaut Lake Historical Society.

You can go
Conneaut Lake’s mastodon and woolly mammoth bones are on display at the museum during regular hours, Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., or by special appointment.
These artifacts join a new exhibit of a woolly mammoth figurine, purchased with funds raised by local elementary school children who annually donate pennies for a special project. Through the efforts of teacher Robin Copeland, this year’s project was completed and unveiled in a special ceremony at the museum.
In addition to this exhibit, the museum also has numerous exhibits of various other historical artifacts the society has been given since it was organized in 1999.
The recent lecture by retired Allegheny College Professor Sam Harrison was recorded and is available for viewing at the museum upon request.

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

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