Standing in the creek at the exact location of where they found a 20,000-year-old mastodon tooth are (front, left) Chase Redfern, 11, and Brynlee Volker, 10; and (back, left) Michael Koch, 12, and Brylie Volker, 12.
FAYETTE, Iowa (July 3, 2013) – With numb feet, four friends worked diligently to build a dam on a meandering creek just west of the Volker family farm in rural Sumner, Iowa. They were hoping to make a swimming hole to give them and their siblings respite on a hot June day. Half-way through their project, Chase Redfern tugged on a large stick in the creek bed. He pulled hard, dislodging the stick and something else – something rare.
Up to his knees in the cold water, Redfern lifted the object from the sandy bottom. His friends, Michael Koch of Fredericksburg, Iowa, and Koch's cousins, Brylie and Brynlee Volker, rushed over to see what it was. Clambering onto the banks, the group ran to the Volkers' yard with their prize. Koch's dad thought maybe it was petrified wood, while the kids thought it was a tooth belonging to a carnivorous dinosaur.
Turns out the kids were half right. Dr. Katherine McCarville, Upper Iowa University associate professor of geosciences, confirmed it was indeed a tooth – a mastodon tooth. While the kids thought it was a pointy tooth indicative of a carnivore, they actually needed to turn it right side up to see that it was the molar of a mastodon that could have died some 20,000 years ago.
"There were many different kinds of elephants in North America during the past few million years, including mammoths, mastodons, four-tuskers and others," said McCarville. "The last of these died out about 12,700 years ago in the Great Pleistocene Extinction, which may have been driven by climate change, overhunting or diseases, or some combination of factors. The animal Chase found would have lived perhaps 20,000 years ago, during the most recent of the Ice Age glaciations that affected Iowa.
"(The tooth that Chase found) is quite a nice specimen. Because the tooth is complete and unworn by transport in a river, there might be additional remains of this animal near where they found the tooth."
The kids have already been out in the creek looking for more, although it's been tough. Heavy rains and the weeds along the banks have stymied their progress.
Upper Iowa University currently has a partial mastodon jaw that was found near West Union, Iowa. There have been several mastodon remains discovered in Iowa and Illinois, according to McCarville.
A side view of the mastodon tooth.
This top view shows the 'chewing' part of the mastodon's tooth.
About Upper Iowa University Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa University is a private, not-for-profit university providing undergraduate and graduate degree programs and leadership development opportunities to some 6,200 students—nationally and internationally—at its Fayette campus and learning centers worldwide. Upper Iowa University is a recognized innovator in offering accredited, quality programs through flexible, multiple delivery systems, including online and independent study. For more information, visit www.uiu.edu.
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