Ice Age mastodons once roamed Berrien County

Published 3:04 pm Friday, February 4, 2005

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
Elephant-like mammoths and mastodons were designed differently. Mammoths, of which the remains of one have been found in Cass County, were grazers.
Mastodons, more abundant in Michigan, were browsers.
Four surfaced in St. Joseph County. They were even more prevalent in Berrien County, where 18 finds dot a map, and Van Buren County, with a concentration of about a dozen.
Dr. Tom Goodwin, a paleobiology professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, riveted a capacity crowd at The Museum of Southwestern Michigan College's first spring lecture Wednesday night.
He expertly wove Ice Age detective stories from thousands of years ago when a glacier a mile thick covered Michigan.
The ice sheet 18,000 years ago extended as far as southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Goodwin studies fossils for clues to ancient life, but his area of expertise isn't mammoths or mastodons, let alone giant beavers or saber-toothed cats, but squirrels.
An ancient, extinct musk ox skull associated with the tundra was actually discovered in Berrien County, as was a giant beaver at the end of the Ice Age as the glacier receded.
He also showed an antler from a Michigan moose now extinct.
Another skull came from an extinct pig-like animal today found in the Southwest and Central and South America, but it inhabited Michigan at the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago.
A mammoth's skull is tall and dome-shaped. Teeth where tusks come in point down. A mastodon's skull is flatter. Teeth point more forward. Their bodies were different, too. Mammoths were taller and more slender, mastodons shorter and squat.
Yet, mastodons and mammoths were contemporaries, living in the same time and the same area even while being "entirely different creatures. If you'd been here at the end of the Ice Age you'd have run into one of these guys on a walk," Goodwin said.
Wooly mammoths were well-known in Siberia and Alaska, but 14-foot Columbian mammoths populated North America.
Using a Watervliet tusk, Goodwin illustrated how scientists can piece together clues to shed light on lives of these ancient animals.
Banding is growth lines, like rings on a tree. Ridges result from new layers of hard tissue.
Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, devised a way to tell from the tusk when females gave birth.
Andrews' museum displays the most complete mammoth ever found in Michigan - in a pond on the Wes Prillwitz farm in the 1960s. Goodwin used that specimen to tell a detective story exploring three questions - its sex (male, though it was interpreted for years as a female because of its large pelvic canal), age (25) and cause of death.
His investigation centered on teeth, the femur, the backbone and the humerus, the long bone from the shoulder to the elbow.
Yet the big, multi-plated tooth, sixth in a series, hints at an adult.
How could that be? Goodwin said males grow longer to grow larger. Where females would be fully developed at 10 to 15, males would grow until they were 25 years old. Male elephants also tend to be loners.
As for why skeletons tend to be found in bogs, Goodwin said Prillwitz was having a pond dug out with excavation equipment. One theory was that vegetation grew out over the water. Animals coming to drink fell through and got stuck in muck.
Another is that they underestimated humans as predators and were hunted out of existence.