Franciscan students excavate a prehistoric mastodon

Photo by Grace Lillis
Volunteers discover a small bone fragment from the excavation site.


Students from Franciscan University’s anthropology and history club, Explorers of the Past, volunteered to help excavate a prehistoric mastodon on Sunday in Morrow County, Ohio.

The excavation of the mastodon, an elephant-like mammal, at Cedar Creek Mastodon Site is led by Dr. Nigel Brush, a professor at Ashland University and co-director of the Ashland/Wooster/Columbus Archaeological & Geological Consortium, along with his team of mostly volunteer workers.

Junior Tucker Lutter, president and founder of Explorers of the Past, and freshman Kristina Frandson, a club member, were two of about 30 archaeologists present at the site. There are volunteers of all ages and experience working toward uncovering the 10,000 year-old creature.

“It was a great experience because not only did I get to help teach people who didn’t know quite as much, but I also had the opportunity to learn from those who knew more,” said Lutter. “It’s important to have hands on experience because that’s where most of the learning is.”

Explorers of the Past is one of Franciscan University’s newest clubs, founded earlier this year. The excavation of the mastodon is one of the club’s first official activities, but Lutter said he hopes to get the club involved in more things like this in the future.

“I hope that, through this club, we’ll begin networking to get to know people in the field so students will succeed when they get out of college. It’s about building relationships with those people,” said Lutter. “Today was a good start because we were working with students and teachers from different universities across Ohio.”

The mastodon at this site was discovered late 2013 by a local farmer when he uncovered bone fragments while plowing near the edge of his field.

Mastodons were very common in the Ohio region, said Brush, so it’s less of a question of whether there were mastodons around and more of a question of whether it was preserved.

Photo by Grace Lillis Tucker and Kristina at work at the excavation site.
Photo by Grace Lillis
Tucker and Kristina at work at the excavation site.

So far at the site, along with the bone fragments, archaeologists have also found flint, wood, charcoal and numerous other items that have led them to wonder if this particular mastodon was hunted by humans of the area. A few of the bones showed evidence of cut marks, which only furthers this theory.

Along with the cut marks on the bones there were signs that a bear-sized animal and a wolf-sized animal interacted with the mastodon.

Altogether, less than a quarter of the animal has been found, but Brush said he has plans to resume and expand the search once the winter season has ended.