Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/357

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A MASTODON IN AN OLD BEAVER-MEADOW.

by the ditching. There was in the side of the ditch enough visible before the uncovering to show that the destruction had taken away much of the base, being nearly all that part of the tusk containing the pulp-cavity. The surface of the soil was carefully removed, and measurements taken. The part uncovered was four feet four inches long. Between this and the place of insertion in the skull was about eighteen inches—and for insertion two feet should be allowed—when the entire length of each tusk would be seven feet eight inches, and the weight of the ivory in each hardly less than two hundred pounds. The tusks had a slight upward curve.

The digging was continued next day, the whole area being examined. The peculiar dark stain covered a space not less than fifteen feet in length and six feet in width. It was evident that the head was inflected toward the chest. It is pretty certain, then, that a line taken from the base of the trunk to the root of the tail would not be less than seventeen feet.

The burial-place of this great beast is to me of intense interest. The body lay on its side, on a hard sand bottom, the upper parts being surrounded and but thinly covered with muck, or vegetable peat. I am satisfied that it died on the dry bank of an ancient stream. Now came a singular discovery which served as a key to the difficulty. Lying on the skeleton at different parts were the sticks or heart remains of red cedars (Juniperus Virginiana, L.); they were beaver-logs. Here a singular piece of experience came to my aid. I had quite recently discovered and studied the details of two fossil beaver-dams but two miles west of this place, and the physical features of this mastodon's burying-place were in all respects indicative of a former beaver-dam. In fact, no other hypothesis could account for these sticks, with others of different woods, which have been exhumed in this meadow. It is observable that a pond made by beavers has in time its meadow as a natural consequence, and that, after the pond is deserted by these animals, the dam breaks down slowly, and, as the pond area decreases, the swamp area increases, and a growth of vegetation sets in which becomes the peat-bog, afterward the meadow. The place where the mastodon lay in course of time became covered by the waters of the pond, for beavers keep lengthening their dam to increase the area of the pond, and only stop so doing when the natural opportunities of the situation are exhausted. Of course, it was only the skeleton of the beast which was buried, and the bones might have been there long before peat-growth began over them. This explains the decomposition of the bones, for peat is antiseptic, and they should have been preserved, but it was a slow burial, and slow decay had long before set in. A curious fact seems to me to confirm the above. The huge air-cells in the bones and the great pulp-cavities of the tusks were packed solid with vegetable matter, but so unlike the imbedding peat as to be remarkable. This packing, which filled