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Mastodons in Southern Illinois?

The answer is an emphatic first-time YES for Jackson County. In a collection recently donated to the Center for Archaeological Investigation, there was a most intriguing find, a partial mastodon tibia which is the first of its kind to be recovered in Jackson County, Illinois.

The bone was recovered from a rock shelter by amateur collectors over four decades ago. In the hands of CAI researchers under the direction of Dr. Mark Wagner, the mastodon bone is now undergoing state-of-the-art analysis to answer important questions about how and when, exactly, it came to be deposited in a rock shelter here in southern Illinois. Making use of the university’s new portable X-ray Florescence analyzer, CAI researchers recorded data to determine the origin of dark stains observed on the bone, finding that they consisted primarily of manganese.

This finding resolves one critical question: where did the stains come from? The pXRF data confirms that the stains resulted from the bone’s deposition in a watery environment, rather than the result of human activities such as burning. The bone has recently been delivered to the Illinois State Museum, where ISM paleontologists will determine whether or not enough collagen remains to conduct c14 dating.

The CAI received a grant from the Illinois Association for Advancement of Archaeology, a member of the Society for American Archaeology Council of Affiliated Societies whose mission is to unite all persons (amateurs, professionals, students and educators) interested in the archaeology of Illinois, to conduct radiocarbon analysis to determine the date of the mastodon bone and further our understanding of how and when the bone came to rest in the rock shelter.