DescriptionSPECTACULAR, IMPORTANT AND UNIQUE SKULL - THE FOUR-TUSKED "LONE STAR" MASTODON
La Grange, Texas , USA
The "Lone Star" mastodon skull was uncovered in February 2004 in a gravel pit near La Grange, Texas. The skull itself, at 42 x 40 x 35½ inches, was determined to be the world's largest four-tusk mastodon, as documented by independent appraiser, Charles R. Magovern of the Stone Company, Inc. in Boulder, Colorado. It was probably a healthy bull of about 35 years of age, buried either whilst still alive or shortly following its death. It was discovered along with two large male mammoths, several females, a sloth, giant bison, zebras and several other large animals, it represents further confirmation that mastodons were not early link in the evolutionary chain that resulted in the mammoth, but a similar although taxonomically-distinct contemporary.
Distinct also from its European cousin, the Mammut borsoni, the American mastodon lived throughout North America, from Alaska to Central Mexico, in the Pleistocene epoch, and is generally believed to have become extinct about 10,000 years ago. They are classified in the order Proboscidea together with other large heavy mammals with distinctive tusks and long flexible trunks. The mammoths that lived on Earth during the same period are closely related to the modern Asian elephant, whereas the mastodon has no surviving relatives. It was built like a tank with heavy, stout limbs, broad shoulders and a low cranium, in contrast to the higher-domed heads found in mammoths and modern-day Indian elephants. Their tusks were less curved than those of the mammoth, but larger and longer than elephant tusks. Both species were covered in thick fur and stood approximately 10 feet high at the shoulder, but the most distinctive feature differentiating the mastodons from mammoths is their cheek teeth: unlike modern elephants and extinct mammoths, the mastodon had molars that featured distinctive cone-like cusps. Mammoths had flat, ridged molars that look like washboards, totally different in appearance from mastodon teeth. These unusual cusped teeth give the mastodon its name, derived from the Greek words "mastos" meaning breast, or nipple, and "odon(t)", meaning tooth.
Restoration of the "Lone Star" mastodon was particularly arduous. The bones were covered in granite-hard sandstone composed of a very hard calcium carbonate - cemented sand and gravel - and could only be removed using extra-powerful mini jackhammers. Even so, it was possible to remove only a few square inches per day, and the whole process wore down several super-hard carbon steel tips, taking a year and a half and 1500 man hours. In addition, the sheer size of the find necessitated the construction of five large and elaborate structures to enable the giant matrix block to be turned for work access. Most of the post-cranial material was not recovered during excavation, but the skull was removed from the ground virtually intact, save approximately one third of the left side; the upper molars were well-preserved and the lower jaws were likewise both virtually complete, with molars intact. Approximately 50% of the mandibular (lower) tusks were missing, but replacements were cast for these also and magnetized for ease of removal and replacement. Unfortunately, most of both upper tusks were irretrievable, but replacements were cast from those of the famous "Burning Tree" mastodon. Where the right tusk had been separated from the skull, it exposed the root canal stretching right up into the skull. During restoration, the replacement tusk was arranged so as to be easily removable and a tiny LED light placed inside the cavity for illumination - the result looks like a spectacular ice cave. A similar tiny LED light was also installed in the brain cavity so one can look in and see "what's on its mind" - this technique has never before been used in fossil restoration.
The fossilized remains of the American mastodon are considerably less common than those of the mammoth. On those that have been recovered, the four tusks, two growing from the skull and two from the lower jaw, are much more commonly found on sub-adult animals and very rarely on fully grown males. In addition, at over 20% larger than the famous Warren mastodon of the Museum of Natural History, New York, previously considered by many to be the largest ever found, and 14% larger than the "Burning Tree" mastodon from Ohio, the "Lone Star" is the largest known mastodon skull discovered anywhere. And never before has a mastodon skull been found in Texas: it is only fitting therefore that of all the specimens recovered worldwide, this unique example from the Lone Star state should be the biggest and the best.
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