Indiana lawmakers name mastodon as first state fossil

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Indiana lawmakers have designated the American mastodon as the state’s first official fossil, advancing the proposal to the governor’s desk for final approval.

The Indiana Senate voted 39-6 Monday to name the mastodon Indiana’s state fossil. The bill, authored by Republican Rep. Randy Frye of Greensburg, previously passed unanimously out of the House.

The Ice Age mammal is related to modern day elephants and is already the state fossil of Michigan.

Frye said he was inspired to write the bill after a visit to Hanover College, which recently installed a life-size cast of the world’s most complete mastodon skeleton, found in 1989 by a crew excavating a pond for a golf course in central Ohio.

Mastodons roamed Indiana starting about 2.5 million years ago, and they became extinct about 10,500 years ago, retired Hanover College geology professor Stanley Totten told the House Natural Resources Committee earlier this month. They’re now the most common Ice Age fossil found in Indiana.

“Mastodons have been found in nearly every county in Indiana,” Totten said. “Every time you dig a hole in your backyard, you might find one. It’s very abundant, very common.”

Crews working on a sewer system in Seymour in 2019 found two mastodon limb bones and parts of a skull and tusk. The bones were donated to the Indiana State Museum, which dubbed the mastodon “Alfred.”

Indiana already adopted popcorn as a state snack, Say’s firefly as a state insect, the cardinal as a state bird, and the peony as a state flower. But it’s one of five states without a state fossil.

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