View a timelapse sequence that captures the re-articulation
of the Mastodon in South Hall.
SOUTH HALL — Come visit the Cohoes Mastodon in its new location and learn about its history, discover the secrets of its life and death, and find out what happened to all the mastodons.
Its relocation to the South Hall Lobby reduces the effects of climate on the bones and allows the Museum to preserve and display this mastodon for years to come.
How and why this young male mastodon died is unknown. It is known from skeletal evidence that it had been in poor health and may have died a natural death, although some research on the skeleton hints that it may have been killed by native American hunters.
In life, the Cohoes Mastodon stood about eight and one-half feet high at the shoulder, was about fifteen feet long, and weighed between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds.
The Cohoes Mastodon stayed in the collections until 1998 when it was placed in the 1st Floor lobby of the Cultural Education Center. Because of its location in the lobby, the mastodon and mount were subject to large fluctuations in temperature and humidity, which are not ideal conditions for preserving bones. The current location of the Cohoes Mastodon reduces the effects of temperature and humidity on the bones and will enable the New York State Museum to preserve and display the mastodon for years to come.
Some “secrets” about the Cohoes Mastodon have been known since its discovery in 1866, when it was identified as
a male. More recent findings include:
- The “detached” ends of its legs and other bones indicate that it was a juvenile or immature male. Born with a tooth missing from its lower right jaw, the Cohoes Mastodon had difficulty chewing, which affected its growth.
- Growth lines visible in its tooth or on thin sections from one of its tusks document the mastodon’s growth history. Similar to tree rings, widely spaced lines indicate periods of good growth and health; closely spaced lines indicate periods of poor growth, due to ill health or environmental stresses. Research on its teeth reveals that the Cohoes Mastodon’s growth was particularly poor during the winter of the last few years of its life.
- In 1996, protein from a small piece of bone cut from the Cohoes Mastodon’s left femur shows that the mastodon died 11,070 years ago, give or take 60 years.
A major difference between mastodons and mammoths was the shape, structure, and function of their molar teeth. Mastodon molar teeth had pointed cusps used to cut and crush the coarse, often woody, plants on which they fed. In fact, the name mastodon is derived from Greek words describing the shape of its teeth≠ómastos, meaning breast, and odous, meaning tooth. In contrast, mammoths and elephants had molar teeth that were flattened on top, suitable for grazing on grasses. The different diets of mastodons and mammoths suggest that they behaved differently.
Is this a dinosaur?
No. Although large and extinct, mastodons were not dinosaurs. Mastodons were mammals; dinosaurs were reptiles. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago. Mastodons, like mammoths, ground sloths, and giant beavers, were large mammals that lived in New York and became extinct only about 10,000 years ago.
Why are the bones different colors?
While the New York State Museum does have a significant portion of the Cohoes Mastodonís skeleton, it does not have every bone. Bones that were missing from the skeleton were replicated from similar-sized mastodons in a lightweight urethane plastic and painted dark brown. The original bones are all light brown in color.
Where have other mastodon fossils been found?
Mastodons have been found in North America as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. The largest concentration of mastodon fossil sites occurs in the Great Lakes region of the United States, including New York. Mastodon fossils have been found throughout New York. One site especially rich in mastodon fossils is the Hiscock Site in Genesee County, New York. So far, more than twenty mastodon individuals have been recovered from this one site.
What if I find a mastodon bone?
Fossil bones provide a unique opportunity to study the biology of ancient and often extinct animals. Without having the bones available for research, any information that could be discovered is lost. If you find a fossil bone, it is best to leave it where it is and contact the New York State Museumís Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology.