Eleven thousand years ago, an adult male mastodon walked alone along the edge of a pond in what is now Michigan. The elephant-like animal stepped unexpectedly on a large log in its path. Its front leg slipped and, losing its balance, the mastodon suddenly moved its hind leg to steady itself. Regaining its composure, it continued along the shore.
Paleontologists know about this momentary misstep because of the tracks the mastodon left behind. Dr. Daniel Fisher, a professor of geology and biological sciences at the University of Michigan, recently discovered the 50-meter (165-foot) trail of more than 20 footprints. Captured in the firm clay-rich sand of what is now a peat bog in Saline, Mich., these tracks are considered the longest set of mastodon steps and the best-preserved record of the animal’s behavior ever documented, Dr. Fisher said.
The series of footprints, each measuring 20 inches across, provides graphic evidence of the mastodon’s size, stride, speed and gait. From the prints, Dr. Fisher estimated that the mastodon was 9 or 10 feet tall and 12 to 15 feet long, and it weighed between five and six tons.
The mastodon, a stout, shaggy-haired and long-tusked ancestor of the present-day elephant, roamed North America for 2.5 million years. It became extinct near the time when the Ice Age ended, about 10,000 years ago. Some paleontologists have linked the mastodon’s extinction to the toll from hunting, while others believe that the animal could not adapt to climatic changes.
Source : “SCIENCE WATCH; Recently Found Prints Tell of Mastodon’s Slip”, New York Times, August 25, 1992.
Tonya Blust’s Michigan 101 Blog tells some interesting background:
In 1992, Harry Brennan began digging in his pasture near Saline, about ten miles south of Ann Arbor. He wanted to create a pond, but when Brennan began fishing mastodon bones from the newly exposed soil, he knew he might have to put his plans on hold. Brennan contacted Dr. Daniel Fisher, a paleontologist at The University of Michigan, who visited the site with an excavation team. What Fisher and his crew discovered earned Brennan’s land a place in the record books. Buried under two or three feet of soil was a 75-yard-long trail of mastodon footprints. These weren’t fossilized footprints….they were actual footprints, made by a mastodon about 11,000 years ago. Scientists determined that the line of about thirty imprints was the longest preserved trail of continuous mastodon footprints in the world.
Source : Tonya Blust, “Saline’s record-breaking mastodon trail”, Michigan 101, September 27, 2013.