Ongoing Exhibitions :: The Cohoes Mastodon
The Cohoes Mastodon Moves!

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.

The Cohoes Mastodon (Mammut americanum)
Image of the mastodonThe Cohoes Mastodon was discovered in 1866 during construction of Harmony Mill No. 3 near Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River. The mastodon's remains were found deeply buried in two potholes, which had been worn into the bedrock by the swirling action of water and stones at the end of the last Ice Age.

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.

Evolution of the Cohoes Mastodon
Harmony Mill No. 3 near Cohoes Falls oon the Mohawk River
Photograph of the bones of the Cohoes Mastodon displayed at Harmony Mill shortly after its discovery in 1866.
Photograph of the first display of the Cohoes Mastodon in the State Education Building, c. 1920. The Cohoes Mastodon is in the foreground, a lifelike interpretation of the mastodon (center) is now on display at the Cohoes Library, and the skeleton in the background is the Temple Hill Mastodon, which now resides within the research collections of the New York State Museum.
Photograph of the Cohoes Mastodon mounted and displayed in Geological and Agricultural Hall, Albany, New York, in the late 1880s. Immediately to the left of the Cohoes Mastodon mount in this picture is an Irish Elk (Megaloceras hibernicus), which are found on the British Isles. The New York State Museum purchased this skeleton from Wardís Scientific.
Photograph of the Cohoes Mastodon exhibition that was in the front lobby of the Cultural Education Center from 1998 to 2006.
Photograph of the Cohoes Mastodon exhibition c. 1960 in the State Education Building. The Cohoes Mastodon is on the left, the lifelike interpretation at center, and the Temple Hill Mastodon on the right.
Since its discovery in 1866, the Cohoes Mastodon has become one of the State Museum’s treasures. It has been viewed by millions of visitors, from schoolchildren to great-grandparents. The Cohoes Mastodon was first mounted and displayed in 1867, at Geological and Agricultural Hall in Albany. In 1915, it was moved to the New York State Museum, which opened within the newly built State Education Building. When the State Museum moved to the Cultural Education Center in 1976, the skeleton was dismantled and relocated to the scientific collections.

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.

The Life and Death of the Cohoes Mastodon

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.
What is the Difference Between Mastodons and Mammoths?
A Size comparison of an African Elephant, Woolly Mammoth, the Cohoes Mastodon and Human.
Although mastodons resembled mammoths (also extinct) and elephants, they were not closely related mammal species. Mastodons, mammoths, and elephants last shared a common ancestor 15 million years ago when mastodons diverged, ultimately evolving into the animal seen here. This divergence occurred long before the evolutionary split between elephants and mammoths, which occurred about 4 million years ago.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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