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MOS: Mammoths and Mastodons

The Museum Of Science’s new exhibit, Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age, opens on Sunday October 7th. The RainyDayScience folks had a chance to preview the exhibit on Wednesday and came away impressed.

The Pleistocene Epoch spanned from 2,588,000 to about 10,000 years ago, which also marked the end of the last Ice Age. Discoveries made by British, American, and Soviet scientists and explorers have indicated that the last of an isolated population may have been living on Wrangel Island until as recent as 2500 BC.

Mammoths and mastodons were giant creatures of the Ice Age. These beasts weighed as much as 8 tons and had tusks reaching out 16-feet. As amazing as it was that these huge animals existed, it was even more amazing that they eventually became extinct. What is cool is they have left behind a prolific fossil record, preserved by ice, all over the world (North America, Eurasia, etc). This new exhibit at the Museum of Science, explores how these animals lived, how they died, and what kind of changes may have led to their eventual demise.

As most grade-schooler knows, the Earth is quite a bit older than 6,000 years and that modern humans (first appeared around 200,000 years ago) were not around during the time of the dinosaurs (died out about 65 million years ago). However, humans were around during the end of the Ice Age (roughly 10,000 BC) and did indeed interact with the wooly giants. Mounds of evidence from all parts of the world have been uncovered and more are being discovered all the time.

The Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age exhibit features some of the oldest art in existence, huge skulls and tusks, and even mastodon bones collected by William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) for President Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection.

Mastodons separated from the rest of the proboscidean family tree millions of years ago. Though similar to mammoths, mastodons were shorter and stockier than their mammoth cousins and evolved differently shaped skulls, tusks, and teeth. The mammoth and mastodon are very similar in size to the modern day Asian elephant, which grows up to be about ten feet high. Other similarities included the forehead and a high hump that resulted from their long spines and neck vertebrae. The one notable difference is that mammoths had a shorter trunk than the modern day elephants.

Seeing the full-scale replicas of Ice Age mammals such as the 12-foot bear and the giant saber-tooth cat was exciting enough, but the replica of Lyuba (pronounced Lee-OO-bah, meaning “love” in Russian), a 40,000-year-old, intact, baby mammoth specimen who was discovered in 2007 by a Siberian reindeer herder, was the highlight of the exhibit for the RainyDayScience crew. The specimen is the best-preserved of its kind and has provided researchers with a rare glimpse into the lives and habits of these creatures. The exhibit also includes CT scans and other scientific evidence that confirm existing theories about her species, as well as new insights.

Besides the excellent replicas and fossils, the exhibit also had plenty of interactive and hands-on displays. Visitors can learn about why scientist theorized these animals evolved their long trunks, how they may have lived, and even how they must have communicated.

As new discoveries are made, prevailing scientific understandings and theories are adjusted based on the examination of the findings. It is how science works. Feel it first hand at the Boston Museum of Science this SundayMammoths and Mastodons: Titans fo the Ice Age will run from October 7, 2012 until January 13, 2012. The exhibit is included with the regular Exhibit Hall admission. Don’t miss it!!!

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