It’s nearly every young, adventurous boy’s dream to stumble upon a prehistoric fossil while playing in his backyard.
For an 11-year-old Shelby Township boy, Eric Stamatin and his cousin Andrew Gainariu, 11, that dream came true this summer.
On a warm June day, the boys were hoping to find crayfish while exploring a stream about a quarter of a mile from Stamatin's house on 24 Mile and Dequindre roads. Instead, they stumbled upon an American Mastodon bone.
“At first it just looked like a rock but it had a hole in it so we thought maybe it was a bone,” said Stamatin.
The boy’s family sent a picture of the bone to Cranbrook Institute to be examined. John Zawiskie geologist with Cranbrook later identified it as the axis bone of the extinct American Mastodon.
“The axis is one of two specialized vertebrae that secure the head to the vertebral column, and judging from the size of this find the animal was probably an adult around 8 or 9 feet high at the shoulders and weighing roughly 6 tons,” said Zawiskie.
The mastodon bone is likely between 13,000 and 14,000 years old.
The boys led an archaeological team from Cranbrook back to the spot where they found the bone, but no more artifacts were found.
The stream where the bone was found, near 24 Mile Road and Dequindre Road in Shelby Township, cuts through sand and gravel of an old glacial lake plain and is very near the source of the Middle Branch of the Clinton River. Stephen Pagnani with Cranbrook Institute said mastodon bones are normally found near boggy areas and where there is a lot of sand and gravel.
Mastodons are furry elephant-like mammals, and are close relatives to the woolly mammoth.
They lived about 3.7 million years ago until they became extinct at the end of the last glacial period around 10,000 years ago.
Zawiskie said this is the fourth record of an American Mastodon to be found in Macomb County. Nearly 2/3 of an American Mastodon was found in neighborhing Rochester, on Adams Road, back in 2006. Road crews unearthed a three-pound molar, tusk and leg bone, among other bones.
“It’s a common archaeological find, but it’s still a fun one,” said Pagnani.
Nothing Like a Prehistoric Show and Tell
Stamatin, a Roberts Elementary School student, showcased his great find at school on Friday, according to Utica Community Schools.
"This has been a wonderful experience. He's been struggling in school and this has helped him with self-confidence and inspired him to learn more about science," said Christina Stamatin.
Pagnani said the bone is the boys' to keep. Christina Stamatin said she will allow her son to decide whether or not he'll donate the bone to a museum or keep it. However, she will advise him to donate it.
More than 211 mastodons have been discovered in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula, and the mastodon is Michigan’s state fossil.
To learn more about mastodons, visit the permanent exhibit at Cranbrook Institute of Science. Investigating Michigan’s Winter—Both Past and Present begins Dec. 26 through 30 from 1 to 4 p.m. each day.
For more information on Cranbrook, visit www.science.cranbrook.edu.
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