Iowa Teenager Finds 34,000-Year-Old Mastodon Jaw While Walking Around Friend’s Farm


A teenager went looking for arrowheads on a friend’s farm in Iowa. Instead, he found the bones of a 34,000-year-old mastodon — an elephant cousin that went extinct 10,000 years ago.


According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the jaw bone, which measures 30 inches long, belonged to a juvenile mastodon — an elephant-like animal believed to have roamed Iowa tens of thousands of years ago.

Researchers at the University of Iowa’s Paleontology Repository, where the bones are now being stored, believe that the bone belonged to a young mastodon that likely stood around 7 feet tall. The prehistoric remains have been tucked away in the cabinets of the university’s Trowbridge Hall.

The curious teen discovered the bone near a creek.

“He cradled the fossil in his arms, which is very heavy, and carried it up to the farmhouse,” Tiffany Adrain, the special collections manager and sole full-time employee at the UI’s Paleontology Repository, told VICE. “The landowners already knew what to do. They wrapped it up in plastic to keep it wet and they sent us an email.”

“We were incredibly lucky that the student had been walking up and down the creek because the jaw bone can’t have been there for very long,” said Adrain.


Amazingly, the specimen is in such great condition that when it was found it still retained the qualities of regular bones and was mostly intact. If the fossil had been exposed in the sun for too long it would have dried out and crumbled.

Mastodons are distant relatives of the modern elephant, and as such, share traits with them and with woolly mammoths. Male mastodons were sometimes taller than 9 feet with tusks exceeding 16 feet in length. Like their elephant cousins, they had floppy ears and long snouts.

Many often confuse mastodons with woolly mammoths. While the first mammoths appeared about 5.1 million years ago in Africa — with woolly mammoths coming along much later, about 600,000 years ago — mastodons first came about roughly 27 million to 30 million years ago, primarily in North and Central America. Mastodons are slightly smaller than mammoths.

The farm owners donated the remains to the repository anonymously, as they wanted to avoid encouraging other people to go bone-hunting on their property. They came across other mastodon remains on their property while they were fishing 30 years ago.


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