Rock & Gem

Revealing the Roaming of Fred, the Mastodon


An American mastodon (Mammut americanum) nicknamed Fred apparently roamed all around the Upper Midwest during the Ice Ages some 13,200 years ago. How to tell? By chemical “signatures” in his tusks.

Examining those tusks (much like examining tree rings) and other evidence in the skeleton, researcher­s determined this particular critter died at the age of 34, very likely in combat with a fellow “bull” mastodon during mating season. In looking at chemicals preserved within the tusks, scientists say Fred traveled around but would return to Indiana mating grounds every spring and summer.

†ey say we are what we eat. Minerals leached from rocks get sucked up by plants that, in turn, are eaten by animals. †ose minerals then get incorporat­ed into bones and teeth. Scientists such as Brooke Crowley (University of Cincinnati) have been able to produce paleogeogr­aphic maps showing different sorts of isotopes of elements like strontium and oxygen. Joshua Miller (also of the University of Cincinnati) reports in the Proceeding­s of the National Academy of Sciences, that, remarkably, isotopes preserved within Fred’s tusks paint a picture so detailed his team could make analyses at the level of weeks and even days. By matching isotopes within Fred’s tusks to isotopes in Crowley’s geographic maps, Miller and his team were able to piece together Fred’s roaming. It’s a truly remarkable advance in paleontolo­gical techniques to be able to see, nearly day-by-day, the roaming of an individual creature from so very long ago.

To see Fred (more formally known as the Buesching mastodon) head to the Indiana State Museum. He’s now forever on display not so far from where he ultimately met his doom.

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