By Matt Wood in Miscellaneous on Oct 5, 2005 1:54PM
Contractors working on a wetlands restoration project in DuPage County recently unearthed a set of molars belonging to an American mastodon, extinct ancestor of modern elephants. Mastodons roamed America 3.75 million years ago, but died out just 11,500 years back. They favored the kind of spruce forests that thrived in the Chicago area about 16,000 years ago, which also died out at about the same time mastodons did, so scientists think this area could be the mastodons' last stand. Thus the discovery of fossils from the fairly well-understood species is still significant, because they may hold clues to the mastodons' downfall.
The workers discovered the teeth along with a few pieces of tusk, bone, some ribs, and a fossilized car that appeared to be powered by human feet. Scientists hope that the rest of the animal's skeleton is in the vicinity, but worry about how a more extensive excavation project would be funded. Since mastodons are so well-known, researchers have a hard time getting grant money to study them; kind of like a historian trying to get money to study Abraham Lincoln.
While one group of scientists is worried that they may not be able to learn as much as they can from the find, another is elated. Staffers from the Discovery Institute in Seattle say that the find is definitive proof of the "intelligent design" theory of the creation of life on Earth. "C'mon, elephant teeth in Chicago? That doesn't even make sense, they can't keep elephants alive at their zoo," said institute director Stephen Meyer. "And where's the rest of the skeleton? Did it 'evolve' away?" When asked how 16,000-year old mastodon teeth got here in first place, Meyer waved his hand and said, "Dude I don't know, and you don't either. That's all the proof I need." He went on to posit that the teeth could have been placed there by an intelligent designer of the universe who was "just trying to screw with us."