PRAIRIE CREEK, Ind. — An Indiana highway worker inspecting flood damage to a Wabash River levy recently discovered the 17-pound bone of a mastodon, the extinct elephant-like mammal that roamed the area more than 12,000 years ago.
Bob James, a supervisor with the Vigo County Highway Department, said at first he thought it was a piece of driftwood, but a closer look revealed it was a large bone. He said he hopes it will eventually be put on display at the Children's Museum in nearby Terre Haute, Ind.
Ron Richards, curator of paleobiology at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, confirmed it was the upper leg bone of a mastodon, measuring 24 inches long and 26 inches around at its top joint.
Richards said mastodons were abundant in Central and North America, including Indiana, for thousands of years before they vanished at the end of the ice age 12,000 years ago. They looked similar to the wooly mammoth "Manny" in the animated kids movie, "Ice Age."
"Of the ice age animals, it is the one that's most commonly discovered," said Richards.
Paleontologists describe the typical mastodon as 15-feet long, with shoulders 10 feet above the ground. The species featured long, curled elephant-like tusks. Experts believe a major factor in their extinction was the rapid climate change associated with the end of the ice age.
Richards said the find of a mastodon bone near this western Indiana village does not signal that other bones from the same creature are buried in the area. He said the currents of the Wabash River almost certainly scattered the bones about.
"It's probably just an isolated bone," he said. "The big rivers really move things a long way."
Details for this story were provided by the Terre Haute, Ind., Tribune-Star.