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Prehistoric find doesn’t stop building

Excavation of housing development in Byron Center leads to 10,000-year-old discovery.

September 22, 2017
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Eagle Creek Mastadon
A team of excavators works on digging up the remains of a mastodon. Courtesy Eagle Creek Homes

Joe Siereveld didn’t know what to expect when he got a call from one of his excavators saying they had dug up something curious.

The owner of Eagle Creek Homes got word the remains of a mastodon had been found on one of his properties. The excavation team had been working on Railview Ridge, in Byron Center, when they made the find.

“It was kind of a surprise,” he said. “We got a call from one of our excavators the Friday before Labor Day.”

Mastodons are the prehistoric relatives of modern elephants that inhabited parts of Asia and North America between 10,000 and 11,000 years ago.

The unique find posed the question, what does a housing development company do when its operations are halted by a 10,000-year-old skeleton? Siereveld could have sold the bones to a private collector but decided they would serve a better, more educational purpose if they were donated to the University of Michigan’s Museum of Paleontology.

“There are two options,” he said. “You can clean them up and try to sell them, but if we donated them to the University of Michigan, they could study them — try to figure out the age and lifecycle of the animal.”

Siereveld said his company isn’t looking to profit off the find but is at least expecting it to generate publicity.

A team from U-M Museum of Paleontology arrived at the property Sept. 13. The team, along with Eagle Creek, conducted two digs on the property and was able to find 22 bones from the creature.

Overall, the dig had minimal impact on Eagle Creek’s operations in Byron Center. The location of the remains was not directly in the path of operations and did not hinder any progress. Eagle Creek had to pay to have the bones removed because they already had begun excavating the site.

Among the finds was the humerus bone, or upper leg, of the mastodon. Scott Beld, research lab specialist for the Museum of Paleontology and supervisor for the dig, said the bone was smaller than average for a mastodon, suggesting it belonged to a female.

The excavators also found vertebrae, half of a jawbone and part of a skull.

Daniel Fisher, director of the Museum of Paleontology said the museum worked to save the scientific potential of the find with minimal disturbance to Eagle Creek’s operations.

“It’s important for business people to know that when these things are found, we can deal with them in pretty short order,” Fisher said.

Fisher’s current research focuses mainly on mammoths and mastodons, involving fieldwork of animal remains found throughout Serbia and North America, particularly in the Great Lakes region.

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