The Marshalls Creek Mastodon

  • By Amy Leiser, Executive Director

Monroe County Historical Association

Twelve thousand years ago, Monroe County looked much different than it does today. With a glacier receding just to the north, many unusual, and unusually large animals wandered the land. From giant ground sloths and beavers the size of riding mowers to oversized bears and sabre-toothed cats, Monroe County’s landscape was dominated by creatures that were remarkably different than those found here today. One of the largest animals to wander what would eventually become Monroe County was the American mastodon.

Mastodons are prehistoric mammals, cousins to the wooly mammoth and distant relatives to modern elephants. Mastodons ranged in size from 7 to 9½ feet at the shoulder and were covered with thick fur. In search of leaves and twigs on which to browse, the American mastodon roamed through the scoured forests, bogs, and swamps south of the glaciers that had ranged across much of the northern United States, including northern Pennsylvania and Monroe County.

On July 5, 1968, John Leap, owner of the Lakeside Peat and Humus Company in Marshalls Creek, and Paul Strausser, an employee, unknowingly unearthed the skull of a mastodon during a peat mining operation. Located under six feet of bog material, the mastodon’s bones had been perfectly preserved. The lack of oxygen and the soft calcium carbonate material in the bog had preserved the bones of the giant elephant.

Employees of the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and five excavation crews were called to the scene in Marshalls Creek, just north of the old Mountain Lake House Resort off Route 209. After two weeks of digging, the most complete mastodon skeleton ever found in Pennsylvania was transferred to Harrisburg.
As there were no projectile points or spear heads discovered with the remains, it is believed that this mastodon died naturally and was not killed by native Americans.

The Marshalls Creek mastodon is the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is on exhibit at the State Museum in Harrisburg.

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