Making tracks for the U-M Exhibit Museum

December 15, 2006

ANN ARBOR— Roughly 10,000 years ago, a mastodon slowly sloshed through shallow water near the shore of a Michigan lake, leaving a trail of footprints in the firm sand of the lakebed. This trackway was discovered near Saline, Mich., in 1992 by University of Michigan paleontologist Daniel Fisher and a team of assistants. It is believed to be the largest and most complete mastodon trackway ever found.

Too fragile to excavate and transport to U-M’s Exhibit Museum of Natural History, Fisher and a team of volunteers made a 40-foot plastic mold of the trackway, reinforced it with fiberglass and a frame of plastic pipe, and trucked this cast of the original trackway to the Museum.

Now displayed on a dramatic catwalk extending over the Museum’s Hall of Evolution, the grand opening of the installation will be Nov. 22, beginning at 7:30 p.m. At the opening, Fisher will give a slide presentation and Allen Samuels, dean of U-M’s School of Art and Design and one of the project’s volunteers, will give his perspective on the operation. The Mastodon Trackway Opening is free, but reservations are required and can be made by calling (313) 763-4190.

Mastodons and mammoths lived in Michigan until their disappearance about 10,000 years ago. Fisher believes this particular trackway of 30 prints, some measuring about 20 inches across, were left by a large male, probably about nine feet tall at the shoulder and weighing approximately six tons. The trackway closely resembles ones made by slowmoving modern elephants.

Could there be a mastodon skeleton in your backyard? More than 250 mastodon specimens have been found in the southern half of lower Michigan, and other discoveries may not have been reported. The mastodon tracks on display were found just outside Saline, and other mastodon skeleton pieces have been found even closer to Ann Arbor. And what do you do if you find one? Leave it where you found it and contact UM’s Museum of Paleontology at

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