New York SuperGraphic

Digging up the past - A suburban family's tale of discovery

Sheryl and Larry Lozier just wanted to make a few home improvements - they never thought they would uncover some of the best clues ever found to the world of giant mammals. Larry Lozier grew up in the house only 100 miles outside New York City; now with a growing family, he began with backyard improvements in August 1999. 

In order to deepen their backyard pond, the Lozier's hired an excavator. A week later, they stumbled on to what looked to be some sort of large muddy log. After examining it further, they found it was a three-foot bone. Larry began doing some research and discovered it was a possibly upper-forelimb (or humerus) bone of a mastodon (Mammut americanum). A frenzied phone call was immediately made to a paleontologist, who confirmed Larry's findings. The Loziers had no idea they had been residing over the grave of a precious, extinct creature that roamed the Earth some 14,000 years ago. 

Where there is one bone there may be more, so the search began in June 2000. Anxious volunteers and staff from the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, N.Y., drained the Lozier's pond with tremendous excitement, but to their dismay found no additional bones. However, in late August, a second trip was made with the help of volunteers from Vassar College, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Mount Holyoke University, SUNY New Paltz and the Boston Museum of Science. Working passionately and vigorously, the volunteers managed over six weeks to extract 95 percent of the mastodon's remains from the Lozier's pond, making this find one of the top three most valuable and complete Mammut americanum specimens in the world. Not only is it one of the most complete skeletons, but the Hyde Park mastodon died only 2,000 years before the species became extinct, making it one of the last clues to our world during the Pleistocene period.

Paleontologists determined that the Hyde Park specimen is an adult male American mastodon (approx. 30-40 years old) which possibly weighed in at an astonishing 10,000 - 15,000 pounds. It is said to have roamed upstate New York around 11,500 B.C. Today, the Hyde Park mastodon has made its home at PRI's Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, N.Y.

The Hyde Park find is also one of the best clues to the environment of the late Pleistocene epoch as well. The sedimentary composition of his burial ground was ideal for preserving not only the mastodon, but flora and fauna of his time as well. 

From the type of plants taken from the mud, paleontologists found that New York 14,000 years ago was just on the south-edge of retreating ice age glaciers and resembled the Hudson Bay of today.

In addition to the Hyde Park mastodon discovery, evidence of over 150 mastodons has been found in New York state over the past 200 years.

Related images

Man sits in boat holding a large hose into the water
Courtesy of PRI.
Warren Allmon setting the intake hose into the water. This pump was one of many that were used to drain the pond.
Three men lifting a large bone from the mud
Courtesy of PRI.
Dr. David Burnie (lower right) of Fordham University and Dr. Dan Fisher (upper left) of the University of Michigan carefully lift the Hyde Park mastodon's pelvis bone out of the Lozier's pond.
Two women and two men observing bones in the mud and making notes
Courtesy of PRI.
Narissa Russel, professor of Anthropology at Cornell University, helps with the mapping of the bones.
Man leans over to look at tusk in mud
Courtesy of Spencer Ainsley of the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Jim Sherpa admiring the 8-foot-long tusk still in place in the mud at the bottom of the pond.

The graphic The Mastodon