Mastodons in Nova Sc.. - Nova Scotia Department of Education

The first mastodon fossil found in Nova Scotia was a femur (thigh bone) discovered in
Lower Middle River, Victoria County, Cape Breton island, circa 1833. This specimen has been
on display since 1835. You can still see this bone at the Museum of Natural History in Halifax.
The next mastodon report is a molar tooth, found in 1895 at Baddeck, Victoria County.
Several more recent mastodon discoveries have been made. A molar tooth was dredged up on
George's Bank by a scallop dragger, captained by Vernon D'Eon of Middle West Pubnico, and
reported in the Halifax Herald newspaper of January 1965.
Subsequent to this, in the fall of 1973, a molar was discovered when glacial gravel was
being dumped on site of a new student union building at St. Francis Xavier University in
Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The gravel had come from James River, near Antigonish. This molar
is part of the St. Francis Xavier University Geology Department collection.
In October 1989, a complete tusk, a partial second tusk and some small bone fragments
were discovered during removal of the overburden at the Fundy Gypsum quarry near Windsor.
There have been various other reports of mastodon finds in Nova Scotia, but no others have been
verified or documented so far. All the specimens described above are in the Nova Scotia
Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Collection, except the Antigonish tooth.
On October 22, 1991 in the mid-afternoon, the Nova Scotia Museum received a phone
call from Jim McCubbin, Quarry Superintendent at the Milford Gypsum Quarry of National
Gypsum Canada, Ltd. The call was to advise that quarry worker Stanley McMullin had just
unearthed "a tusk and some big teeth. Bob Grantham, Curator of Geology and Kelley Kozera,
Curatorial Assistant, were at the quarry within an hour. The site containing in situ mastodon
material was a partially excavated, clay-filled sinkhole. The excavated material was piled beside
the sinkhole. Bones were visible in the pile and skull fragments were in the clay of the sinkhole.
It was decided to begin immediate recovery of visible in situ and dump specimens,
beginning with removal of the exposed skull. As well, site stabilization would be carried out to
protect the bone and the site during the winter. Work continued, but record rainfalls in midNovember threatened massive slumping in the pit.
The advice from the Quarry Superintendent was that the site would not last the winter.
Because of this possibility, an emergency winter recovery was begun, under difficult conditions.
The quarry was rugged and muddy. Working under a shelter of wooden walls and plastic roof,
staff and volunteers excavated and documented many mastodon fragments. When bone was
exposed by digging, linoleum knives, hunting knives or dental tools were used to remove the
enclosing clays.
The bones were left sitting on pedestals of clay. Any sensitive bone was field stabilized
on the spot. A field jacket of polyfoam was poured around the bones to protect them during the
trip to the Museum. It usually took three to four weeks from first exposure to final removal of a
large specimen. Our thanks to National Gypsum for excellent cooperation and help in the
excavation. The bones were found to be in a variety of conditions, ranging from acceptable (10%
of bones) to fractured (20%), broken and abraded (30%) and fractured, broken and abraded
(40%). All of the bones were wet and fragile.
Preliminary evaluation of this site indicates an environment first dominated by a fast
flowing stream, followed by period of quiescence indicated by about 30 cm of dark gray clay and
peat buildup. This was then followed by a second phase of fast flowing water. These are in turn
covered by a thick (~ 2 m) sequence of alternating thick and thin clays, with abundant peat and
occasional pebbles. Scattered throughout are many logs, branches and occasional full trees.
Some of the wood has been partly replaced by minerals. This is why the mastodon has been well
A mastodon similar to the one found in East Milford Nova Scotia