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Surprise! Mastodon Bones Turn Up In Cape Breton Quarry
May 9, 2014
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Mastodon bones

Residents of Little Narrows are celebrating a historical find this week.

The small Cape Breton town known for its picturesque landscapes and rocky beaches can now claim a major mastodon bone discovery as well.

"There have been only a half dozen discoveries of mastodons in the Maritimes,” John Calder, a senior geologist with the Department of Natural Resources, told They range from two virtually complete skeletons found at Hillsborough, NB in 1936 to another found at Milford, NS in 1991. “So yes,” adds Calder, “they are rare.”

The discovery of what turned out to be a shin bone was made by a supervisor on the job at a gypsum quarry. Calder praises “eagle-eyed Cape Bretoners” Sandy MacLeod and Lawrence MacNeil of Little Narrows Gypsum Company for quickly reporting their findings and not further disrupting the area after the discovery.

Bones of mastodons, and their larger distant cousin the mammoth, have been found across much of North America. This discovery of Mastodon bones in Nova Scotia is helping to paint a clearer picture of how widespread they may have been in the province 10,000 to 80,000 years ago.

“Two schools are out there as to how they fell into extinction” says Calder. “One is that they were hunted into oblivion by humans, the other, that they succumbed to rapid climate change. Or both. Perhaps it’s a call out from the past that humans and climate change are still at it.”

For this particular mastodon, Calder told it may have died by falling into a sinkhole, "formed where gypsum had dissolved into collapsed caverns and pits." The sinkhole would have been covered by bogs "that tempted the great beasts to browse spruce and other delicacies. Once mired in these deep bog holes, they were trapped."

The bones have been carefully cleaned and conserved, and were transported to the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History in Halifax where they will likely become a part of their collection. Calder says a team of geologists will be travelling to Cape Breton in the next few days to sift through several tons of material that the gypsum company set aside, to see if more bones may be found.

In the meantime, "Sandy and Lawrence and company will be keeping their eyes peeled for more sinkholes and their secrets."

To celebrate the find, we thought we'd share a little interactive video from the Mastodon (the band, not the animal), collaborating with Feist — as Feistodon.


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