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Gray paleontologists make progress on 15-ton mastodon skull

Jessica Fuller • Updated Feb 11, 2018 at 12:02 AM

More than two years into uncovering several mastodon skeletons from the Gray Fossil Site, paleontologists have pieced together the jaw of one individual who lived during the Miocene Era, about 4.5 million to 7 million years ago.

The 15-ton mammal isn’t the only one in the area, as researchers have found enough evidence to believe there are at least two individuals among the uncovered bones so far. The lab is now home to 11-foot-long tusks that are being pieced together, in addition to the rest of the skull and parts of a mastodon’s leg.

Paleontologists have used their 3D printer to make replicas of the mastodon’s lower tusks to display with the lower jaw. The reason for this, director Blaine Schubert said, is that the replicas are much lighter than the original tusks, making it safer to display with the jaw.

The mastodon would have weighed about 15 tons when it was roaming around the fossil site — more than twice the weight of a current-day African elephant.

Paleontologists at the site, like Chris Widga, who specializes in the site’s larger finds, hypothesize that a rock slide brought these animals to their deaths, and their bones remained until the fossil site was discovered in 2000.

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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