Contractor Daniel Lapoint Jr. was digging in his neighbor's yard with an excavator when a gray, curved formation appeared out of the agitated dirt. Upon further inspection, Lapoint and his neighbor Eric Witzke discovered the skeleton of a very large animal.
While both assumed them to be dinosaur bones, experts from the University of Michigan knew that the skeleton was actually a mastodon. These Ice Age beasts weighed up to five tons and are ancestors of elephants. Both men admit that they were not planning on finding the skeleton and that they were lucky to stumble upon it.
The two Michigan natives will donate the remains to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, where Daniel Fisher is the director. Fisher said that Michigan has had about 330 confirmed mastodon bone findings, but most come from the southern part of the state. More importantly, most people only find a tooth or a bone spur.
Their haul was huge and included a wide array of bones in one location. The dig contained rib, leg, shoulder and hip bones as well as a piece of a tusk and vertebrae. Fisher said, “Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans.” He added that the bones are between 10,000 and 14,000 years old.
However, before donating the bones to Fisher and the museum, Lapoint and Witzke wanted to do a show and tell with middle school students. Lapoint said, "Once these things go to the museum and get crated up, you're not going to get to touch them again. It's over with and I was that kid who wanted to touch that thing on the other side of the glass. All the kids got to pick them up and hold them. Some kids, it was life-changing for them. To change one kid's life because they got to touch it, I think, is an incredible opportunity."
While both said they will keep a few bones for themselves, they realize that the fun part was making the discovery. Lapoint described it, saying, "Finding them was very, very cool. You know, after time goes by and you have the bones it wears off, the excitement. Digging and finding the bones for the first time, it's not something that can be replicated. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."