Rare 12,000-Year-Old Mastodon Bones Accidentally Discovered By Michigan Road Crew

by Caitlin Berard

A typical day of road work involves endless amounts of stone, sand, gravel, and cement. Every now and then, however, road crews have been known to stumble upon some truly fascinating (sometimes downright disturbing) finds.

Road workers in China, for instance, once found a 700-year-old mummy buried near the road. Then there was the construction crew in Virginia who accidentally discovered a revolution-era warehouse and 50-foot-long warship underground. And, of course, there’s the occasional vault of human skeletons.

Though these are far from typical finds, construction workers always know to expect the unexpected. Even the most experienced crew, however, couldn’t have predicted what workers in Michigan were about to find when they set out to work on Thursday.

While working on a road in Kent County, an excavator operator noticed something out of place in the soil. Rather than the greens and browns of the outdoors he was used to, he saw something red among the dirt. To his surprise, it turned out to be a massive bone. A mastodon bone, to be exact.

Ken Yonker, Kent County Drain Commissioner, received the astonishing picture from one of his engineers on the scene. Hilariously, he was so stunned by the mastodon bones that the only thing he could think to say was, “That’s sure not a horse.”

“You go out there to put a pipe in the ground and you find this,” Yonker told MLive.com following the discovery. “To find mastodon [bones], that just blew us away. That was just really cool.”

The Mastodon Bones Will Go to the Grand Rapids Public Museum

The construction project, whose goal is to replace a culvert, was immediately put on hold following the incredible find. The road crew then turned the site over to local researchers who are busy searching for additional mastodon bones.

Once the search is complete, any found mastodon bones will be sent to the Grand Rapids Public Museum, which recently shared pictures of volunteers and experts working together to excavate the bones.

Believe it or not, the crews have already filled over 100 bags with bones found at the site. They have not, however, found the skull.

“Right now, all of the mastodon bones have been excavated and are starting to be cleaned and slowly dried out,” Dr. Cory Redman, the museum’s Science Curator, explained to People. “The Museum is working with our partners at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology. [We’re] studying and conserving the bones, so they can be displayed in the future.”

“This process will take about a year and a half,” the curator continued. “From what we can tell so far, the skeleton appears to be ~60 percent complete. [The bones] belong to a single, juvenile mastodon [that] would have died over 11,700 years ago.”

“Very rarely do you find a complete skeleton, especially of a large vertebrate like this,” added research specialist Scott Beld. “We didn’t find the skull or any of the tusks, unfortunately. But we found a lot of other really great stuff.”