Daytona excavation uncovers mastodon bones

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Workers carving out a 4-acre hole to create a stormwater retention pond stumbled on what appears to be pieces of a mastodon, a large-tusked mammal that wandered the area thousands of years ago. 

Barbara Coleman, president of the Musuem of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, uncovers the tusk of a mastodon at a dig just off Nova Road in Daytona Beach on Tuesday afternoon [Credit: N-J/Jim Tiller]

After learning the retention pond workers found a jawbone with teeth intact as well as other pieces of bone Friday, a team from the Museum of Arts & Sciences dug all day Tuesday on the work site just off Nova Road near Mason Avenue. 

Covered in mud and sloshing around in groundwater, they found large vertebrae, two tusks, pieces of femur bones and various other fossilized bone fragments. 

“It’s very, very exciting for us,” said Deborah Allen, the museum’s interim executive director. 

Allen hopes to eventually display the find at the museum off Nova Road, but no decisions have been made yet. 

If the bone fragments add up to a full skeleton, it would only be about the 13th such find in Florida, according to a top official with the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. 

“It’s not extremely rare, but it’s not common, either,” said that vertebrate paleontology expert, Richard Hulbert. 

Hulbert has seen pictures of the jaw and bone fragments that were emailed to him, and he thinks it’s the real deal. 

“It definitely looks like an American mastodon,” Hulbert said Tuesday. “The size and nature of the teeth are very distinctive. It looks pretty nice. It’s definitely of scientific interest.” 

The extinct mastodons, he said, looked like elephants, but were stockier, had shorter legs and ate off trees. They lived in Florida for about two million years, he said. 

Don
Brunning of Atlantic High School, also an amateur paleontologist, shows
a vertebra from a mastodon found west of Nova Road in Daytona Beach
[Credit: N-J/Jim Tiller]

It’s not clear yet if the fossilized remains are from one skeleton or several animals, Hulbert said. But, he added, “all the pictures I’ve seen look like one skeleton.” 

Hulbert said he thinks the bones will probably turn out to date anywhere from 10,000 to 150,000 years ago. 

Because the work site is city property, the bones belong to the city. If the city would agree to donate them to his museum, Hulbert said he’ll come to Daytona Beach to help on the project. Otherwise, he said he’ll provide his expertise long distance if anyone has questions. 

It could turn out to be one of the biggest finds in Volusia County in recent decades. About 37 years ago, the full skeletal remains of a giant ground sloth were discovered during creation of Reed Canal Park in South Daytona. 

That ground sloth is on display now at the Museum of Arts & Sciences, and Allen joked that it “needs a friend.” 

More than a year ago, the city started work on a project to create three stormwater retention ponds in a 10-acre area near the intersection of Nova and Mason to relieve flooding in the area. The first two were built without any archaeological finds of note, and the third was about halfway done when a worker noticed the bones Friday. 

The worker, who has not been named, was putting rocks through a screener when the bone fragments and jaw turned up, said Chris Barney, owner of 4 C’s Excavation, which is based in Bunnell. Saboungi Construction of Ormond Beach is in charge of the site, and 4 C’s is handling excavation. 

The worker took the bones home and no one notified the city, various officials said. When the city heard about the discovery Monday, work was halted. On Tuesday the worker was urged to return the bones, and Barney said he believed he had. 

The city has stopped work on the retention pond, and is waiting for word from the St. Johns River Water Management District, said Mitt Tidwell, the city’s utilities director. 

“All of this work is permitted by St. Johns, and we have to notify them if we find artifacts,” Tidwell said. “We’re looking to them for direction. We want to see if we’ll need to do an archaeological excavation.” 

One of the fossils found is a set of teeth in a jawbone, believed to be from a mastodon [Credit: City of Daytona Beach]

The retention pond will probably be built eventually, but it could be delayed beyond its mid-2012 completion date, Tidwell said. 

“We’re trying to determine what we have as quickly as possible,” he said. 

Museum officials, meanwhile, are working feverishly to see what they can find in the giant mud pit. When they began to worry about rocks sliding down from the dirt walls of the pit, Barney got in an excavator Tuesday and stabilized the area they were working in. He also put piles of dirt on a ground level spot so they could look for more bones. 

“Whatever we can do to help,” Barney said. “It’s pretty neat.” 

Museum officials, who are being aided by a local amateur paleontologist, are making most of their discoveries on one end of the site. They’re worried about people drifting in and taking souvenirs, and they’ve asked the media not to pinpoint the area where the retention ponds are being built by identifying nearby side streets and landmarks. 

“We’re trying to be very cautious to protect anything that’s at this site,” said Allen, who’s been digging through the dirt as well. 

That caution includes digging with small shovels and their hands. 

Barbara Coleman, president of the Museum of Arts & Sciences, was doing just that Tuesday afternoon. 

“This is very exciting,” said Coleman, who also found a Double Cola bottle, a brand she believes competed with Coca-Cola in its earliest days by offering twice as much soda.  

Author: Eileen Zaffiro-Kean | Source: The Daytona Beach News Journal [November 23, 2011]

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