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Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning

Bones protrude from a bank in the early morning sun. The small unnamed stream has been diverted and the area in front of the remains drained. It’s not much to look at yet, but by the end of a muddy and sometimes cold day, a team of excavators from the University of Michigan, the Fowler Center for Outdoor Learning, and local educators will have exposed much of a young adult mastodon that has lain in these pond sediments for about 11,000 years.

These remains were discovered in 2014 by Seth Colling, a farmer and part-time teacher at the Center. He and students in the Fowler Center Alternative Learning Program found bones that had washed out of the bank. The center contacted the University and Professor Dan Fisher made a preliminary evaluation. More bones were found in July, and excavating the site became a priority.

Most of these sites are discovered during building projects. Because of this they are often excavated quickly to avoid adding construction costs and delays. The circumstances surrounding this find allowed time to set up a program to invite educators from Tuscola County to participate. It offered what the invitation described as “an unparalleled opportunity to share in the recovery of fossil material and interest with scientists and educators committed to deepening our understanding of the history of life and the history of human interaction with the natural world around us.”

The Fowler Center arranged signage, a viewing area for the interested public, restrooms, a first aid station, and facilities for the press. U of M staff occupied a bunkhouse and were fed by the center as well. Heavy equipment and portable lighting was acquired through the Center’s contacts in the community.