The mastodons, a close relative to modern day elephants, which were found in America, were called Mammut americanus. The common term mastodon is used because of the close link to the name Mammuthus Primigenius or the woolly mammoth. The mastodon and the woolly mammoth are distinctly different. The mastodon, which has been called by, several other names including The Leviathan Missourium, The Carnivorous Elephant, a Behemoth, The Great American Incognitum and many others. The difference between the mastodon and the woolly mammoth is through their genus. The mastodon genus is Mammutidae and the woolly mammoth genus is Elephantidae. The elephant is the descendent of the woolly mammoth having the same genus of Elephantidae. The full scientific name of the Mastodon is Moeritheriidae Mammutidae Mammut americanus, and the wooly mammoth is Moeritheriidae Mammutidae Elephantidae Mammuthus primigenius.
In 1954 a hot dog vendor and sports shop owner in Highland Lakes, NJ wanted to expand his pond. So he had it dredge. On February 19, 1954 the line operator Archibald McMurty thought he had pulled a large stump out of the pond that was surrounded by a swamp. What he discovered was part of a mastodon skull. After McMurty pulled up a few more stumps of similar size the State Museum of New Jersey was called to inspect these stumps.
These stumps were not wood they were bone. This was to be the third site of mastodon bones in Sussex County to date. The first was in 1851 in present day Greendell, NJ. This site only had a partial skeleton unlike the Highland Lakes site, which had a full skeleton and there was found another bone found suggesting that there could be another skeleton still in the pond. These artifacts were first known as the Ohberg Mastodon. The Ohberg’s who owned the land and who were more than corporative with the archaeology team and the press would not let the dig continue. They were finished with the attention of the press. The press brought the attention of the public to the fact that the Ohberg mastodon could have been and eventually was a full skeleton. The Ohberg mastodon was named Matilda after one of the Archaeologist’s new wife. Since the mid 1950’s there have been two other discoveries of mastodons in Sussex County. One in Hardyston near Sussex County Community College and one in Sparta, NJ during the construction of Route 15.
Mastodons are found throughout the United States, although the highest concentration is in the North East. It is believed that the concentration of mastodons is because the flow of the Wisconsin Glacier. The glaciers path provided a lush forest environment that the mastodons thrived in. Although there have been mastodon bones found throughout Sussex County since the 1850’s there has been one or two bones found in an area. Only an Archaeologist can determine if the area in which the bone has been found can be a site of significance. To have a site of significance a portion of the animal has to be found, a portion such as the head, and spinal column. Or there could be a ribcage and part of the spine. But a significant portion of the animal has to be found and the archaeology team leader will determine if this is a site of significance.
Though there are possibly more Mastodons still in Sussex County more are being found all over the State of New Jersey. In fact one of the counties is named after these Ice Age creatures, Mammoth County. In this county more than a dozen mastodons have been found and documented. How many other mastodons or parts of mastodons have been found and not been documented?
Department of Education of New Jersey, “A New Jersey Mastodon”, Trenton, NJ, June 1964, pg. 5