Putting a reluctant end to the posts about the “Valley of the Mastodons,” below are articles related to the initial fossil discoveries by Kathleen Springer, Eric Scott and team, as well as the innovative museum- and exhibit-work done by those currently at the Western Science Center, headed by the remarkable Dr. Alton Dooley, jr.
(There are more articles in the works as I post this; I’ll add them after they’ve been published.)
A fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the unique exhibit work done by those at the Western Science Center by Brittney Stoneburg, whose title doesn’t accurately cover the enormous work she contributes to the museum (much like everyone on staff there!)
How one young visitor (Anja) was both impacted by and impacted those attending the “Valley of the Mastodons” workshop, as well as a look into how this workshop/exhibit worked to shorten the walls between researchers and the public.
Anja showing Dr. Ashley Leger her field notebook, in which she draws and records the fossils she finds!
More information about the as-yet-unknown type of mastodon excavated at the Gray Fossil Site in Gray, Tennessee. Dr. Chris Widga presented this mastodon at a talk during the “Valley of the Mastodons” workshop. Comments in the post by Dr. Chris Widga, Rachel Silverstein, and Michael Pasenko.
The story behind the remarkable treasure trove of fossils found at Diamond Valley Lake during the late 1990s by Kathleen Springer, Eric Scott and their team. About 150,000 fossils now reside in the collections of the Western Science Center, Hemet, CA. Comments by Kathleen Springer and Eric Scott.
Screenshots from The Guardian post
A simple ‘thank you’ isn’t enough to the amazing staff at the Western Science Center and those behind the event itself. The “Valley of the Mastodons” workshop/exhibit was not only a remarkable experience, it was a dream come true for me. If you are ever in Southern California, stop by the Western Science Center; meet the people there. You won’t regret it!
A final compilation of images and Twitter screenshots related to the “Valley of the Mastodons” workshop and exhibit!
KTLA anchor with Eric Scott and Kathleen Springer at the Western Science Center before filming for a TV spot about “Valley of the Mastodons.” Notice the glassed display in the right corner: that’s where the fossils belonging to a mastodon nicknamed ‘Lil Stevie’ reside. They were taken out and studied during the workshop.
Brian Switek’s tweet picturing Eric Scott, Dr. Brett Dooley and Dr. Andrew McDonald (the new museum curator) taking Lil Stevie’s fossils out of the case for study.
Unsung hero Dr. Brett Dooley–who was responsible for extensive driving of paleos and writers to the museum and its events–and kind Dr. Andrew McDonald–newly hired museum curator who started work the week of the workshop!–removing Lil Stevie’s fossils.
The indefatigable Brittney Stoneburg–the Western Science Museum’s ‘Marketing and Events Specialist’–who made all of us feel at home and tended to a million details that ensured a marvelous experience and a smooth operation!
Another unsung hero: Darla Radford, Collections Manager at the Western Science Center!
Dr. Jeremy Green and Dr. Katy Smith taking measurements on one of Lil Stevie’s tusks.
Dr. Katy Smith measuring Lil Stevie’s fossils.
Brian Switek and Dr. Katy Smith
On the museum floor with visitors
Brian Switek and Dr. Ashley Leger on the museum floor
A great example of how Dr. Bernard Means (and often, Aubree, a student at the nearby Western Center Academy) digitalized fossils.
Pictures of Aubree, Dr. Bernard Means and Aubree’s dad, thanks to tweets by Dr. Bernard Means!
Dr. Chris Widga working on mastodon fossils, per a tweet from Dr. Bernard Means.
Victor de la Cruz, the Western Science Center’s Maintenance Technician, as he puts up the many white boards for the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit.
Some of the mastodon teeth and mandibles on display, pictures taken before glass was added and the exhibit was completed.
Dr. Alton Dooley, jr. with the Zygolophodon fossil on loan from the Alf Museum.
Kathleen Springer taking samples from a mastodon fossil to determine whether the black substance is carbon or manganese.
Dr. Chris Widga scanning the larger fossils for digitization.
Dr. Jeremy Green, PhD candidate Greg Smith and Michael Pasenko working on the mastodon nicknamed ‘Max.’
PhD candidate Greg Smith working on Max’s teeth.
Greg Smith and Dr. Jeremy Green working on Max.
Greg Smith–remarkably patient and good-natured as I take yet another shot of him working on Max’s teeth.
Dr. Alton Dooley, jr; Brittney Stoneburg; Max the Mastodon (mascot); Eric Scott; Dominic Cumo; Dr. Grant Zazula at the opening of the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit.
This is how I first learned of Dominic Cumo–through @MaxMastodon from #SVP2015! It was an honor to meet him in person at the exhibit opening!!
Poet Christina Olson’s tweets; my favorite!
Images from my crappy cellphone: the view from my window as I left California at night and then the view as I arrived in NH at 10am the next morning.
We could hear singing and playful shouting from the bus in front of us. Those of us in the car behind them—a much smaller vehicle carrying an apparently more sedate group–looked at each other and started laughing. We’d parked briefly at the edge of an enormous grapefruit orchard, its rows of trees mostly silhouettes and shadows against the moonlight. A few people jumped out to pick grapefruit (someone knew the orchard owner; this was encouraged). And one person burst into a loud rendition of ‘O, Canada!’ somewhere in the darkness amongst the trees.
(Moon over cedars in Idyllwild–the view from my seat in the open-air seating of the Brew Pub we were visiting; image taken with my crappy cellphone)
Our jovial group was on its way back from a trip up in the mountains to Idyllwild, a beautiful little town that lived up to its name. Everything was quaint and rustic, nestled amongst giant cedars. Getting there meant leaving the valley where the Western Science Center resides—a flat expanse of land—and then driving up narrow roads that twist as they go higher and loop back and up and around in ways that cause one to simultaneously appreciate the views and feel vaguely car-sick.
Along the way, Alton and Brett (Dooley) pointed out a specific plant dotting the landscape around us—one of the very plants depicted in the mural by paleoartist Brian Engh now hanging in the museum.
(The mural now hanging in the Western Science Center by Brian Engh; screenshot from his website: Dontmesswithdinosaurs.com)
(Screenshot of the lower right corner, highlighting the plant that still grows in the San Jacinto mountain area)
I knew his artwork was based on the fossil record of the Diamond Valley Lake Local Fauna, but I didn’t realize this plant existed today. Something about that seemed marvelous to me: that here was a plant whose ancestors lived when Pleistocene animals roamed the area. A species that survived when so many others didn’t; a connection to life thousands of years ago.
Brian’s mural depicts what might have occurred to Max, the nickname for the enormous mastodon at the Western Science Center, and only one part of the 689 mastodon fossils recovered by Kathleen Springer, Eric Scott and their team in the 1990s. Injuries on Max’s jaw prompted Brian to research how modern bull elephants might receive similar wounds. This depiction of two male mastodons engaged in combat–surrounded by plants, insects, birds and amphibians matching the fossil record of the area–is the result.
(Picture of Brian Engh with his original artwork in front of the mural at the Western Science Center, photo by Jeanne Timmons)
Twelve or so partial skeletons of mastodons went on display in the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit following the three-day workshop hosted by the museum. Many exhibits may have put the fossils into body displays—illustrating what each animal may have looked like as a complete skeleton. The Western Science Center, however, kept the fossils in their jackets – offering visitors another peek into paleontological work. Illustrations of a mastodon skeleton—the specific bones in that fossil jacket highlighted—appear above each fossil, along with where in Diamond Valley Lake it was found and what year. Next to that, each fossil has a white board, where scientists at the workshop posed a question or highlighted their observations after studying the fossils.
(Images of one particular mastodon fossil still in its jacket, the display text above it detailing what part of mastodon anatomy is seen here and where it was found, and Kathleen Springer’s notes on it; photos by Jeanne Timmons)
(Images of a cast of Max’s skull and Dr. Alton Dooley jr’s notes on it; photos by Jeanne Timmons)
Just as visitors could ask paleontologists questions as they worked on the floor of the museum the days prior, paleontologists were available on opening night to answer questions anyone had while exploring the exhibit.
“I think it’s really fun to talk to ANYBODY about mastodons or paleontology,” Katy (Smith) explained in a phone interview prior to the event.
This sentiment seems to encapsulate the enthusiasm I witnessed by all of the scientists attending.
“’Valley of the Mastodons’ was a very new experience for me! I’ve been to lots of classic conferences, but never one that was this open to the community,” wrote Ashley (Leger) in an email. “I’ve also never put together a new exhibit during a conference!! Having real-world paleontologists available to interact with museum-goers of all walks of life was really interesting! I thought we got to meet a lot of wonderful folks, talk about things that interest us, and give them a whole new take on their museum. Anyone can go to a museum and read the signage, but not everyone can ask a scientist a question and get an answer immediately.”
(Dr. Ashley Leger answering questions of a very engaged group of museum visitors on opening night of the exhibit; photo by Jeanne Timmons)
“I think what transpired on Aug 2-4, 2017 at the Western Science Center is just incredible,” Kathleen (Springer) wrote.
As mentioned earlier, Kathleen and Eric (Scott) lead a team of volunteers over 7 years of excavations in the Diamond Valley Lake area. Before construction even began on the human-made reservoir, Kathleen maintained that fossils would be profuse at the depths they intended to dig. This was in direct opposition to the view held by the paleontologist initially hired for the job. When digging began and bones began surfacing, however, Kathleen and her team were hired.
“The whole reason we have that collection in that museum is because she knows her geology,” Eric said in a phone interview.
“Throughout that project,” he continued, “Kathleen, and to some extent, I had to keep reminding them, ‘if you’re digging, you’re going to find [fossils].’ I don’t know [if] they didn’t want to hear it, but they had to keep being…” Here, he paused as if searching for the right word. “…encouraged. They just didn’t get the geology, even when she told them. They just kept thinking ‘this is a one-off. Or maybe a two-off. But we can’t keep hitting this stuff, right?’ And the answer is: yes, you can.”
(Details of one of the mastodon fossils — in this case skull and tusk — in the exhibit. None of these fossils have been on display since their discovery in the 1990s by Kathleen Springer, Eric Scott and team; photos by Jeanne Timmons.)
Understanding the amount of work and time Kathleen and Eric put into uncovering and caring for the 100,000 fossils now at the museum, as well as knowing that this Pleistocene treasure had been largely unstudied, Kathleen’s enthusiasm for the workshop and event is significant.
“An amazing assemblage of paleontologists came together to talk and study mastodons,” she wrote. “That combined with the ‘Valley of the Mastodons’ exhibit, and the public interaction that ensued, was just fantastic. So much collegial dialogue occurred during and has continued since.”
“I’m happy [the fossils are] in such a beautiful place,” she said, “and they’re curated so wonderfully.”
(Image of part of the exhibit space before it was open to the public and before most of the displays were hung; photo by Jeanne Timmons.)
Following my last post, I wanted to include some pictures of the “Valley of the Mastodons” workshop and exhibit, including tweets leading up to and during the event. (You can see a lot more on Twitter by searching on the hashtag #ValleyoftheMastodons — no Twitter account needed to do this.) These are just some highlights.
Kathleen Springer and Eric Scott – our heroes! – the two paleontologists who worked for a decade on the Diamond Valley Lake excavations (7 years of digging; 3 years of research), producing 100,000 fossils now housed in the Western Science Center. Their work not only populates the Hemet, CA museum, it also helped prompt the “Valley of the Mastodons” event – an opportunity for paleontologists to study these largely unstudied fossils (over 600 of which are mastodons!)
Dr. Brett Dooley doing research in advance of the event.
Below, the amazing staff at the Western Science Center get the exhibit space ready with an incredible mural done by Brian Engh.
Most of the event participants had connected in some way (by Twitter, by work or by research), but most of us hadn’t met in person. Dr. Bernard K. Means (Virginia) and Dr. Grant Zazula (Yukon, Canada) were the first to arrive.
The rest of us trickled in throughout the next day or so. At each layover, I checked Twitter–eager to see who had arrived, what was going on.
Taken upon my arrival at the airport in California, where the first person I met was Dr. Jeremy Green (Ohio) followed by Dr. Brett Dooley (Hemet, CA), who graciously drove us the hour + back to where we were staying.
Where we were housed during the event. These were described as “cabins”, and as such, I anticipated bunk beds, shared space, community rooms and rustic accommodations. Wow, was I wrong! Separate cabins (mini-homes) with air-conditioning, wifi, comfortable beds…..
One of the many rabbits that could be seen in the area — day or night — as shown in Alton’s tweet below.
One of the first things I saw when I stepped out of the car at the Western Science Center. (Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?) Despite the many signs wherever we went, I saw exactly zero snakes.
Quick shot taken outside the museum on the first morning there. The clouds are misleading; rain is rare in the area.
Shot taken looking out from the museum.
Some of the many mountains surrounding the museum.
The museum displays — designed by Kathleen Springer, Eric Scott and a design team — are GORGEOUS, and particularly helpful for those of us who aren’t yet able to tell which bone goes where (outside the biggest ones). That’s Xena, a Columbian mammoth. Beyond her is a huge fossil sloth.
In front is Max, the iconic and very large mastodon at the Western Science Center, alongside Xena.
Downsized this image because it is blurry, but HERE is the reason for the green tape Katy packed (in tweet above).
Another image of Katy at work.
Grant working on mastodon molars he brought from the Yukon.
Mary Anning was only 5 or 6 years old when she started down the path of discovery; EdwardHitchcock was in his late 30’s. Born on different continents 6 years and 3 days apart, both contributed to a world in which science was blossoming in new and exciting directions.
Their lives couldn’t have been more different.
Mary Anning was born May 21, 1799, to Molly and Richard Anning. She and her older brother, Joseph, were the only children out of ten to survive to adulthood. They learned from their father how to find fossils along the shore of their home in Lyme Regis, England. Mary accompanied her father on these hunts from age 5 or 6. She learned how to excavate fossils from the rock, how to polish them, how to sell them to local tourists.
Lyme Regis, Dorset looking along the beach towards Charmouth, with the promenade to the left. The coast contains many fossils in the rocks which draws tourism from around the globe. Photo by Chris Hopkins, courtesy Getty Images. This is where Mary Anning searched for fossils throughout her life.
When she was 11, Mary found her first major discovery: the complete skeleton of the first known ichthyosaur. Her brother had found its skull the year before—the same year that their father died—and she had gone back to excavate further.
Its discovery puzzled scientists at the time. Extinction and evolution were concepts that had yet to be introduced. The first dinosaur, Megolosaurus, would not be named until 13 years later; the actual term ‘dinosaur’ would not appear until 1842. So this skeleton, with components recognized as those of lizards and fish, was utterly alien to the world.
Images of Stenopterygius quadricissus at the Yale Peabody Museum; this is a “thunnosaur ichthyosaur”, as described here at Wikipedia. In any case, not the exact type of ichthyosaur–a marine reptile that co-existed with dinosaurs–discovered by Mary Anning, but it is something similar. Photos taken by the author.
And it was just one of many new species Mary would go on to discover in her lifetime.
In 1823, she would find the skeleton of what was eventually known as Plesiosaurus giganteus. Five years later, she would find a pterosaur (Dimorphodon). She discovered a transitional fossil—one that actually demonstrates in its skeleton traits that show it is evolving from one form to another—in 1829. That became known as Squalorajapolyspondyla. In 1830, she found another plesiosaur: Plesiosaurusmacrocephalus. Ultimately, she would also discover 34 new species of ancient fish. She correctly identified fossilized dung within ichthyosaur skeletons, a type of fossil newly named coprolites and described by William Buckland after discussions with Mary Anning and Gideon Mantell.
Part of a life-size diorama at Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill, CT; replicas of Dimorphodon, a pterosaur discovered by Mary Anning in 1828, can be seen in the top right. Photo taken by the author.
Image of Squaloraja polyspondyla, a type of fossil discovered by Mary Anning in 1829. You can read about this in more detail at the blog Mary Anning’s Revengehere.
Images of a polished section of Ichthyosaurus communis vertebrae in a drawer at the Beneski Museum at Amherst College. Not only does this come from Lyme Regis, but this is the type of Ichthyosaur discovered in 1832. Mary Anning found the skull and was convinced that there was nothing more to be found. Fellow-fossil hunter Thomas Hawkins, however, believed there was more. She led him to where she’d found the skull, and he and his team did find the rest of the skeleton. When the skeleton shattered as they moved it, Mary Anning helped Hawkins put it together.
Her discoveries fueled scientific revelations, were studied by the most prominent scientists of the age, and were discussed in the relatively new Geological Society of London.
As a woman, she was never allowed to attend any of their meetings or lectures. Moreover, she was almost never credited for her remarkable fossil finds.
Her male friends could attend university (as both a woman and a member of the Dissenter religion, this was not an option), join scientific organizations, have papers published, discuss the latest scientific research among peers in professional institutions, travel extensively (without chaperones) and make substantial financial gains in their careers.
Mary’s life was marked by periods of financial gain and of teetering terribly close to financial ruin. She had three years of formal education. She traveled to London once.
And yet, she constantly persevered. Her work enabled her to buy a home for her family at the age of 27, the first floor of which she created her fossil shop. Although she was not privy to university resources, she taught herself scientific illustration. Using marine life from the local beach, she taught herself anatomy through dissection. She was in communication with and visited by scientists from all of Europe.
Across the ocean, Edward Hitchcock was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts on May 24, 1793, several years before Mary Anning was born. He would also outlive her. While she died of breast cancer at the age of 47, Edward died at 70.
Had he been African-American (or simply African) in the newly-formed United States or a woman anywhere, his opportunities would have been severely limited, but he was none of those things. Still, although he hoped to study astronomy at Harvard, he ultimately never attended college.
He did, however, become the first state geologist for Massachusetts in 1830 (the same year Mary made one of her major fossil discoveries). He created the first geologic map of Massachusetts—only the 2nd ever created in the country—in 1832. He believed the state exhibited proof of the Great Flood referenced in the Bible; it was later found to be remnants of the Ice Age.
Sign at Dinosaur State Park that offers a brief history of ichnology in New England. Edward Hitchcock is pictured at the very top. Below that, a drawing of the fossil tracks found by Pliny Moody–a name you will see in marble in the “Donors to the Footmarks” frame further below. Photo taken by the author
Remarkably, he believed that women should receive education and learn about science. One of his well-known students was Mary Lyon, a woman who went on to found Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now known as Mount Holyoke College), among some of the country’s first academic institutions for women.Orra White Hitchcock, who married Edward in 1824, was a prolific artist and scientific illustrator. She created many of the illustrations he used in his classes.
Drawing of plesiosaurus skeleton by Orra White Hitchcock, 1828 – 1840, Classroom chart on linen, courtesy of the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College
In 1835, things changed abruptly. Dr. James Deane, from a nearby town, wrote to Edward about tracks found in stone slabs that were to be used to build a sidewalk. Edward dismissed their importance until the surgeon sent him plaster casts of the tracks.
Most people referred to these tracks, seen in other local stone slabs, as “turkey tracks”. Edward believed they were created by birds. It was a belief he would defend for the rest his life, despite new discoveries that may have indicated otherwise.
Wild turkey tracks in the snow, late Spring, New England; photo taken by the author
Wild turkey in the Fall, New England; photo taken by the author
In part, his theory made sense. The tracks looked remarkably similar to the familiar tracks of extant turkeys, and fossils of any ancient creatures responsible for the tracks in stone were not found. New England, with its acidic conditions and lack of fossil-preserving stone, is not fossil-friendly.
Edward created a new science he named “ornithichnology,” a name that references birds, but was later shortened to just “ichnology” by William Buckland.
Images of the first documented fossil footprints, discovered in 1802, displayed at the BeneskiMuseum at Amherst College, part of the Hitchcock collection. Photos taken by the author
Fossil tracks displayed at the Beneski Museum at Amherst College. According to Window into the Jurassic World by Nicholas G. McDonald, these tracks were the “gem” of Hitchcock’s collection (pg. 58, Figure 6-8). This slab was originally used as paving. Photo taken by the author (of this blog)
While major discoveries of reptiles and dinosaurs were starting to pepper European science, Edward continued studying fossil tracks and traces. He wrote about his work and his theory to the men on the forefront of these discoveries (as mentioned earlier, women were not allowed or, apparently, credited). He began publishing books and submitted papers to the Yale American Journal of Science.
Richard Owen disagreed with Edward’s findings at first. He would eventually change his mind after describing an extinct bird in 1939 (the ‘moa’ of New Zealand). In 1841, Charles Lyell actually visited Edward and became a prominent supporter.
Although Mary Anning discovered and identified coprolites more than 15 years earlier, Edward discovered these fossils in 1844 in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.
Coprolites displayed in a drawer at the Beneski Museum at Amherst College. These are not necessarily those discovered by Edward Hitchcock in 1944. Photo by the author
His two major works outlining his life’s work were published in 1858 (“Ichnology of NewEngland“) and then two years following his death in 1865 (“Supplement to Ichnology of New England“).
He maintained that these fossil tracks were made by birds, and his work was heavily influenced by his desire to find proof of God in nature. In his own words, he taught “natural theology.”
The book Ichnology of New England, written by Edward Hitchcock in 1858; copy displayed at Dinosaur State Park. Photo taken by the author
The Supplement to the Ichnology of New England, written by Edward Hitchcock but published posthumously in 1865; copy displayed at Dinosaur State Park. Photo taken by the author
Framed marble sign highlighting donors and the amount donated; displayed at the Beneski Museum at Amherst College; photo taken by the author
His efforts as college president in the 1840’s prevented the closure of Amherst College. One of his particularly successful years was the same year that Mary Anning passed away, 1847.
Today, his vast collection–thousands of fossil footprints and traces–reside in the elegant Beneski Museum of Natural History. We are extremely fortunate, as Edward Hitchcock made it very clear he did not want his collection owned by anyone who did not share his evangelical Christian views. Although the college moved to a more secular philosophy, his family did not honor this request.
A small section of the Hitchcock collection of fossil tracks and traces at the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College. This author encourages anyone interested to visit this amazing museum. Photo by the author
Did Mary Anning and Edward Hitchcock know of each other across the Atlantic? Did their names or their work ever come up in conversation? Did their mutual friends in science discuss them with the other?
There is no evidence to suggest this.
But the world would be increasingly changed thanks to their contributions, their dedication and their lifelong efforts.
“Mary Anning painting” Credited to ‘Mr. Grey’ in Crispin Tickell’s book ‘Mary Anning of Lyme Regis’ (1996) – Two versions side by side, Sedgwick Museum. According to the Sedgwick Museum, there are two versions. The earlier version is by an unknown artist, dated before 1842 and credited to the Geological Society. The later version is a copy by B.J. M. Donne in 1847 or 1850, and is credited to the Natural History Museum in London. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World by Shelley Emling, 2009, Palgrave Macmillan
Window into the Jurassic World by Nicholas G. McDonald, 2010, Friends of Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum, Inc.
Curious Footprints: Professor Hitchcock’s Dinosaur Tracks & Other Natural History Treasures at Amherst College by Nancy Pick & Frank Ward, 2006, Amherst College Press