Surprises in office and in Marshalls Creek

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

I learned a lot about colonial stitchery from the research I did while writing my last two Fanlight reports on samplers, but I needed to take a break from my attempts at stitching (it’s hard to do without opposable thumbs) and focus on another topic.

On a recent late night scamper through the mansion office, I came upon a very large and strange resin cast of a fossil. Looking closely, the fossil appeared to be a tooth with rows of cones (cusps) and valleys. What kind of animal could have teeth like that?

I had a feeling this tooth was REALLY old. Could it be from a prehistoric animal? Did such animals once live in this area? I was getting excited! How could I find out more? Since it looked like a chomping, chewing tooth, I thought about large prehistoric plant-eating animals like mammoths and mastodons. Did those animals live in Pennsylvania long ago?

Since I am a mouse, I definitely know how to use a mouse pad, so I went to the website of the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and checked out the exhibits. There was a picture of a huge elephant-like animal in the “Life Through Time” exhibit, and I read “See the Marshalls Creek Mastodon, one of the most complete specimens of its kind in North America.” A mastodon in Marshalls Creek? I have relatives in Marshalls Creek! Did the tooth in the office belong to a mastodon? Quickly I went to the MCHA website and there, under “Articles,” was a piece about the mastodon written in 2006 by our director Amy Leiser! You can easily find this article too, so I’ll just tell you a little bit about what Amy wrote on how the mastodon was discovered.

During the Pleistocene Era, which lasted from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago, some of the animals living in our area did include mastodons and their cousins, mammoths — mammals known as proboscideans. These huge animals were elephant-like and distantly related to today’s pachyderms. I’m proud to say that small mammals, including mice, appeared in the fossil record much earlier — about 230 million years ago — so my ancestors were probably running around under the feet of those big giants. I wonder if they were scared? Our area was covered with ice three different times during the Pleistocene Era. Mastodons and mammoths roamed the land, although not at the same time, when the ice was receding. Mastodons lived in herds and were predominantly forest-dwelling animals that browsed and grazed on a mixed vegetarian diet.

So, how was the Marshalls Creek mastodon discovered? In the mansion library’s files, I found copies of newspaper articles announcing the find. “Bones of prehistoric creature in area bog,” “Pocono’s own Mastodon: first such find in Pennsylvania,” was the news in the summer of 1968.

It happened like this: John Leap and Paul Strauser of Lakeside Peat Humus Company were dredging a peat bog alongside Route 209 just east of Marshalls Creek. Some bones (later identified as part of the animal’s skull) were found in four feet of mucky bog. The men called in a naturalist from the National Park Service and later, specialists from the state museum, who supervised the excavation. As the specialists uncovered more bones, Donald Hoff, then associate curator, stated, “Th[ese] great proboscidean[s], roamed in herds south of the ice sheets . . . with white-tailed deer, moose, wolves, snowshoe hare and other animals [like mice, I need to add] as [the proboscideans] retreated and became extinct about 9,000 years ago.” Close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like back then in the great forests of the land!

There is much more to learn about the mastodon and his prehistoric friends! How did mastodons get their name? What process was used to excavate the bog? How big was the Marshalls Creek mastodon? How do we know it was a mastodon and not a mammoth (and who was cuter)? How have the bones been protected? How are the bones displayed?

You can research trusted sites on the internet, read books, primary sources like the newspaper articles written at the time of the discovery or secondary sources — information based on others’ research, and you can visit the State Museum in Harrisburg, AND you can stop by the MCHA display at the Eastern Monroe Public Library before May 31 to see photos, artifacts (the tooth and something even bigger is there!), and much more information about the Marshalls Creek Mastodon.

Happy mastodon hunting!blogEntryTopper