Annette Schneider stands beside the approximately 10,000 to 13,000-year-old mastodon femur discovered in her yard. Schneider said that with the tibia, the mastodon's legs would be over nine feet long. Sentinel-Standard/HOLLY SETTER
Mastodon bones unearthed while Portland couple digs for pool
By HOLLY SETTER
PORTLAND - When Rich and Annette Schneider of Portland opted to dig a pond in their yard, they were only expecting to get a place to cool off on hot summer days.
On June 26, they got a lot more than they had originally bargained for.
Their excavator, Gary Martin, had unearthed a mastodon femur.
"At first he lifted it up (out of the site) because he thought it was an oddly shaped log and his wife collects them," Annette Schneider said. "He took it home and power washed it. He looked at it again and said 'That ain't no log.'"
The femur was just the first of dozens of complete bones and bone fragments to come out of the site. The Schneiders have also found a complete rib and
several whole wrist bones, in addition to parts of the animal's tusks and the leg bone known as the ulna.
"It's just amazing," Schneider said. "It really shows that life goes on, finding something like that in your yard."
The Schneiders contacted Dan Fisher, professor of ecology, evolutionary biology and paleontology at the University of Michigan, to confirm they had mastodon fossils.
"It's unusual in the lifetime of any individual to come in contact with this kind of find," Fisher said. "We're very happy to be
notified of this site and to be working with the Schneiders. It's exciting."
Fisher estimates that the bones unearthed in the Schneider's yard are between 10,000 and 13,000 years old and come from a 35-year-old animal.
"Obviously, we don't know anything for certain yet as we haven't been able to test the bones," Fisher said. "But based on similar finds, we can make an estimate."
Similarity to previous digs also has Fisher guessing that this particular mastodon did not die of natural causes.
The types of bones found, as well as the location, led Fisher to guess that the animal was slaughtered by early Native Americans and the bones found are the result of them trying to preserve excess meat in a pond.
Fisher volunteered his time to make the trek to Portland to examine the bones.
"This is not part of my fellowship, not something I get paid to do," Fisher said. "But it is in my area of research and it's something
that I've been doing for over 30 years."
Schneider said that she has lost count of the number of people who have stopped by to see the bones.
"At first we just told our close friends and family," Schneider said. "We wanted to have the bones verified before we told too many people. What if it had turned out to be just a really big horse?"
Since then, a steady stream of people have been in to see the bones or calling to learn more. The Schneiders are taking pictures of the people who stop by
next to the femur for their own memories.
"We're happy to share this with people," Schneider said. "You know, this is the kind of thing that really makes memories."
The Schneiders requested that their address not be published due to the volume of people this find could attract.
Schneider said her family will keep the bones for a little while longer, before donating them to the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology.
"They'll take the bones and try to recreate the animal," Schneider said. "We'd love to be able to take a cast of (the femur) though to take around to the local schools."
According to Fisher, the University of Michigan typically gets one call annually about a paleontological find.
"There are about 250 sites in lower Michigan that have been described in scientific literature, and I'm sure there are more that haven't
been," Fisher said. "A site like this is not unheard of, but it's certainly much better than many (where there are no complete bones)."
Staff from University of Michigan will be on hand when the Schneiders finish their pond and level out the area in the next month to help search for more bones.