Mastodon Discovery in Western NY

Scientists from the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) and Cornell University recovered the bones of a mastodon from a pond in rural Wyoming County, between Rochester and Buffalo. The bones were found by Robert Moffett of North Java, NY when he had a fishing pond dug on his property more than a year ago. Click to view photos from the digsite.

A tooth from the Moffett excavation in North Java, New York. Finding this tooth was the first conclusive proof that a mastodon had been found. The lack of wear on the cusps of the tooth also suggests this was a relatively young animal.

Found were several fragments of skull, several ribs, a toe bone, a fragment of tusk, and one well-preserved tooth. Although it is difficult to draw firm conclusions based on so few bones, the skeleton appears to be notably smaller than most other mastodons found in the region. This may indicate that it was a juvenile or, perhaps, a female, but this is speculative at this point.

Comparison of the complete right tusk of the Hyde Park Mastodon and a piece of tusk from the North Java Mastodon. The diameter of the North Java tusk is only about half the size of the Hyde Park Mastodon. The far (distal) end of the North Java tusk is broken, but if it were intact, it would also be shorter than the Hyde Park tusk.

Comparison of the left 1st rib found at the North Java site (top), and the same rib from the Hyde Park Mastodon (bottom). The relative small size of the bones at North Java have lead some to speculate that this may be a young mastodon, or perhaps a female (or both).

No bones have yet been found in place in the earth; all were discovered in the piles of peat and clay that were excavated from Moffett's pond. The scientists sieved all of these piles to search for more bones and expanded excavation of the pond to see if any can be found in position. Mastodons in New York State are frequently preserved in glacial ponds called kettles, and it it is very likely that these bones are buried in such glacial sediment. The age of the skeleton is uncertain; similar finds in New York State have been dated at between 11,000 and 15,000 years old.