Let's Go Digging! In Search of the Mastodon

Let's Go Digging! In Search of the Mastodon
Abigail Fillmore: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One to three class periods


When Abigail Fillmore was only three years old, the very first mastodon fossils were discovered on a farm in New York State.  Since then, many mastodon fossils have been found, including whole skeletons.


Students who participate in this activity will gain experience in research and synthesis of information, writing in an expository style, and learning about archaeological digs and some of the history of geological ages.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; books, or othre matreials on mastodons and/or archaeological digs; paper, markers, other art media; examples of actual brochures (to give students design elements); a paper template for a brochure for each student (an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper folded in thirds is useful); a computer-based template for a brochure (optional).


1.  Tell students that they will be producing a brochure explaining one of several topics from which they can choose.
  • The story of the 1801 discovery of the first mastodon fossils in New York.
  • The story of the mastodon, itself: what it looked like, when it lived, why we think it is extinct, etc.
  • The story of mastodon finds in other places in New York, or in Missouri.
  • Any other topic related to mastodons that students find interesting.
2.  Enable students to spend some time on the web sites listed below.  Discuss possible topics in addition to those above.  Ask students to use their templates to take notes on information obtained from the web sites or from books or other materials.
3.  Discuss with students the elements of design of a brochure.  What is the purpose of a brochure? How do you select just the right information to put in the brochure?
4.  After students have decided on the topics for their brochures, and taken notes, ask students to produce their final brochure.  If computer templates are available, students can use them to produce their brochures; if not, they can make them by hand.
5.  Be sure to provide a time and place for students to display their work.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended into a full-fledged multimedia production, using PowerPoint presentations, the creation of maps showing where mastodon fossils have been found, or, if technological resources are available, making a video production about mastadons.  It could also be extended by having students make mastodon “bones” from papier mache, and creating their own mastodon skeleton.

Sources & Resources:

Web sites:

Extinct Animals: The Mastadon

Mammoths and Mastadons

A Cabinet of Curiosities


Mastodons in Missouri 

The Mastodon Project (New York) 

Drawing of a Mastadon to color

This lesson was inspired by the story of the “Mastadon Dig” in 1801, and further developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.