Sewanee has received a beautifully preserved American mastodon (Mammut americanum) tooth found recently in a cave near campus in Sinking Cove. The tooth is on loan from Kenny Summers, local resident and owner of the cave in which the tooth was found. After it is cleaned and preserved, it will be on display on the second floor of Snowden Hall.
According to Dr. Martin Knoll of the Department of Forestry and Geology, this is the second such tooth found in the area. The first was found near Wet Cave in the 1960s by biology professor Harry Yeatman. Knoll had that tooth radiocarbon dated to 12,769 years before present and hopes to date the new tooth as well.
American mastodons were part of an assemblage of large animals at the end of the last ice age, most of whose members went extinct around 11,000 years ago. Mastodons had the general appearance of woolly mammoths, but differed from them in that they were generally smaller, lacked the large hump on their back, and grazed on leaves and twigs instead of grasses. They inhabited the Sewanee area along with giant ground sloths, giant beavers, mammoths, dire wolves and jaguars. A Pleistocene jaguar was discovered in a cave near Sinking Cove in the 1940s by Vice-Chancellor Edward McCrady. Knoll had this specimen dated to 13,455 years ago before donating the skeleton to the Smithsonian Institution.
The tooth is a welcome addition to the Sewanee fossil collection and will be used in teaching several geology courses.