Mastodon Bones Were Found in Western Springs

As recently as 11,000 years ago, mastodons, elephant-like creatures, lived in what is now the midwest United States. But did you know that one may have actually walked through your own back yard?

On July 1, 1964, Otto Wilkosz was working on a sewer project in Western Springs, just alongside the Tri-State Tollway. Suddenly, he spotted what appeared to be unusually large bones in the excavation site. His fellow workers were about to put them back into the excavation when he decided to put them in the trunk of his car. A quick trip to the Chicago Natural History Museum confirmed his suspicions: the bones were from a prehistoric mastodon.

American mastodons were among the largest living land animals during the ice age. Compared to elephants and wooly mammoths, American mastodons were squatter, from 8 to 10 feet in shoulder height, and longer, about 15 feet. They weighed between 4 and 6 tons.

Examination of the 36-inch-long jawbone found by Wilkosz disclosed teeth that were as good as they were some 11,000 years (or more) before… each one three inches high and three inches wide.

Museum experts speculated that the creature found by Wilkosz had become trapped and died in what was a swampy area, now part of the Illinois Tollway’s right-of-way. And, while the bones were in remarkably good condition, they concluded that the previous Tollway construction had probably scattered the remaining parts of the skeleton, making a search for it virtually impossible.

Although exactly what caused the eventual extinction of Mastodons is unknown, they disappeared about the same time as native Americans began to populate the country, roughly 10,000 years ago. However, their fossils and remains have been found throughout the Midwest, as shown in the fourth illustration. 

So, what became of Otto Wilkosz’ discovery?  Unfortunately, at the time this occurred, the Field Museum was more interested in locating and preserving complete skeletons and did not want it for their collection. As a result, Wilkosz indicated that he would just probably “… clean and shellac it, and keep it around the house as a conversation piece.” 

Alan Gornik May 09, 2012 at 05:39 PM
"Bog in suburb yields bones of ancient beast" – Those were the headlines when the bones of a mastodon were discovered in Spring Rock Park by WPA workers back in the 30's as well. Mastodons roamed the area and their bones have been found in several places in the western suburbs. For example in 2005, fossilized remains of a mastodon were discovered at Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in Wayne. If you are really into it, you can go see mastodon skeletons today at the Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook (bones dug up in 1977 in the Blackwell Forest Preserve), at Armerding Hall, Wheaton College, Wheaton (bones dug up in 1963 in Glen Ellyn) and I believe in Phillips Park in Aurora.
Darren McRoy May 09, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Got to say, that's a much cooler headline than I came up with.
John Devona May 09, 2012 at 11:24 PM
I still think that "Western Springs- Land of the Mastodons" would have been more appropriate. Buit, then again, I just write the stories.
Joseph R. Martan May 10, 2012 at 04:50 PM
How about "Mastodon Park"?
Darren McRoy May 10, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I kind of wanted to pun on the band Mastodon, but that might be too obscure. :-)


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