Enthusiasts search for mastodon bones in Byron Center

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BYRON CENTER, Mich. – Somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, mastodons roamed the Earth freely before their specie was rendered extinct at the end of the world’s last Ice Age.

All that time later, on the Friday before Labor Day 2017, a crew of contractors working on a development near 84th Street in Byron Center would find one of the giant beasts once again, or at least parts of it.

While leveling ground at the future site of a single-family home subdivision, they stumbled across a piece of debris that puzzled them. It wasn’t a stick or a stump – it was almost certainly a bone, and further research online led them to believe it belonged to one of the prehistoric elephant-like mammals.

“They called my partner…and said ‘hey I think I’ve got something here,’” said Joe Siereveld with Eagle Creek Homes, who purchased the land over two years ago. “They did a little research online – YouTube’s a great thing – so you know, I’m sure they looked it up and said it looks kind of like a mastodon bone.”

And they were right.

Scott Beld, a researcher with the University of Michigan Paleontology program rushed out to the site and confirmed the find. Beld has seen almost 30 discoveries in his time as a researcher in the Michigan, but says the wonder it creates in the communities the bones are found in, never disappoints.

“I’ve found a lot of them but that’s my job,” said Beld. “For someone that’s never found one, maybe never seen one, it’s very exciting.”

Curious diggers, including Scott, members of the construction crew, and volunteers from the area worked through Wednesday to unearth around 30 bones. The mastodon has several hundred bones in its structure, so it was a good haul all things considered. They pulled up humerus bones, foot bones, vertebrae and some still left to be identified.

Most of the bones will be donated to the University of Michigan Paleontology program while many of the others will stay right in Byron Center, just around the corner from where they were found.

“You don’t expect to find anything like this, ever,” said Siereveld through a laugh, “it’s a great way to bring your family together.”

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