Prehistoric Science Lesson

Students Examine Locally Unearthed Mastodon Bones

From left, Loren Mitchel and Giovanni Nicastro examine the hip bone

It’s not every day you get to touch a 50-pound hip bone, or massive molars on a gigantic jaw.

West Middle School students recently examined those and other approximately 12,000-year-old mastodon bones unearthed from a Byron Center housing development excavation site.

Brianna Bagley touches the giant jaw while Aliah Patterson looks on

“That’s pretty crazy. You hear on the news that they find dinosaur bones in places like Arizona and Nevada,” said seventh-grader Hannah Reda, noting that it’s a thrill to learn the remnants of a prehistoric mammal were found so close to home. “It’s so exciting.”

Eagle Creek Homes builder Joe Siereveld and his excavator discovered more than 20 mastodon bones while putting in a road at Railview Ridge housing development, located south of 76th Street west of Byron Center Avenue. They were digging at about a 15-foot depth.

Eagle Creek Homes builder Joe Siereveld shows West Middle School students mastodon bones unearthed from his job site

Paleontology experts atthe University of Michigan determined the bones belonged to a female mastodon, an elephant-like mammal that measured about five meters long and weighed four to six tons. Siereveld plans to send the bones to the U-M Paleontology Department, and is working out an agreement to bring them back to the Byron Center Museum and Historical Society, 2508 Prescott St. SW, when research is complete.

He said he wanted to show the bones to students at West, Nickels Intermediate, and Marshall Elementary schools, where his children attend. “It’s kind of neat to come across a stack of 12,000-year-old bones on your site,” he said.

Seventh-grade science teacher Brett VanDeRoer said the bones make for an incredible learning opportunity. “For us, it gets kids excited that this stuff is real. To see something like this gets them really excited and interested.”

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What is a mastodon?

Hannah Reda listens to a local builder describe the discovery of mastodon bones at his job site
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio

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