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Monday, October 6, 2008

Mastodon!

I'm up here in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York on assignment, which I will tell you about once the story is done.

While here I visited the Museum of the Earth, just outside Ithaca, which is a very cool place for kids and adults alike. This is the home of the Hyde Park mastodon (Mammut americanum), which was discovered on the property of the Lozier family in Hyde Park, New York in August 1999 and excavated by the Paleontological Research Institution, which runs the museum, and Cornell University. Some of you may recall the considerable publicity the project received at the time, as well as the huge volunteer effort that went into digging the mastodon out.

The Hyde Park mastodon is one of the most complete skeletons of this prehistoric beast ever uncovered: 95% of the bones were found, including the skull, both tusks, and all four legs. Researchers say it is a male that lived about 11,500 years ago. Mastodons, by the way, are not the same as mammoths, although they look a lot alike (except mastodons were a little smaller, about 10 feet tall compared to 14 feet for mammoths.) Mastodons, mammoths, and elephants all share a common ancestor; mastodons went their separate evolutionary ways about 15 million years ago, but mammoths and elephants did not diverge until about 4 million years ago.

I will have more science commentary later on, when I blog about the Nobel Prize in Medicine going to two French discoverers of HIV, Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, but not to their American counterpart, Robert Gallo. That is sure to be a controversial decision--more soon!

Photo: Copyright Michael Balter (permission granted to reproduce if you credit me and the Museum of the Earth.)

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