Mesa Southwest Museum show visits the wild and woolly Ice Age - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Mesa Southwest Museum show visits the wild and woolly Ice Age

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Posted: Friday, March 4, 2005 5:47 am | Updated: 7:47 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

March 4, 2005

At the end of the last Ice Age, or 10,000 years ago, the Arizona desert was a semiarid grassland frequented by mammoths and mastodons.

Today the only mammoth-like animals you’ll find in the Valley are the elephants at the Phoenix Zoo.

"The world is down to African and Indian elephants," says Robert McCord, a paleontologist and curator of natural history with Mesa Southwest Museum. "There used to be a lot more than that."

Known as proboscideans, these elephant cousins are the stars of "Tusks! Ice Age Mammoths and Mastodons," a new exhibit opening Saturday at Mesa Southwest Museum.

The exhibit, which is on loan from the Florida Museum of Natural History, features nearly 100 fossil specimens, replicas and artifacts from the end of the Ice Age.

Scientists believe mammoths crossed the Bering Strait and arrived in North America 1.8 million years ago.

Fossils indicate mammoths stood between 10 and 12 feet tall and weighed between 6 and 8 tons. They were grazers who lived on savannas and semi-arid grasslands like those in Arizona.

Mastodons, on the other hand, lived on a diet of leaves in forests. They arrived in North America nearly 20 million years before mammoths and were smaller.

"When you’re the No. 2 in size you don’t get the press," McCord says. "People always want to know about the biggest one." Mammoth fossils and a complete replica of a mastodon skeleton will take center stage in the show.

The task of putting the mastodon replica together fell to a group of museum volunteers led by Frank Burianek, a retired architect. McCord and a colleague numbered the bones so the volunteers would know how they fit together.

"I was an architect, so I know how to put things together," says Burianek, 82.

Also featured in the exhibit are fossils and artifacts from contemporaries of the mammoth and mastodon, including early humans, horses, javelinas and saber-toothed tigers.

Fossils of both animals have been found in Arizona, but the mammoth was the more prevalent. Mammoth fossils have been preserved in places such as Sulphur Spring Valley in southeastern Arizona.

At the end of the Ice Age, mammoths and mastodons disappeared along with saber-toothed tigers and ground sloths. Spearthrowing early man and climate change are two popular, albeit much-debated, explanations for their extinction.

"Tusks! Ice Age Mammoths and Mastodons" is the first of two exhibits featuring large animals. "Whales: The Inside Story" will open May 14.

Mammoth vs. mastodon

The mastodon is often overshadowed by its larger cousin, the mammoth. But the differences between the two are analogous to that of a lion and a tiger.


Sloping back Sleeker build High-domed head Long tusks greatly curved Teeth adapted for eating grass


Straight back Heavy, stocky build Low-domed head Massive tusks less curved Teeth adapted for eating twigs and leaves

‘Tusks! Ice Age

Mammoths and Mastodons’

What: An exhibit of nearly 100 fossils from the end of the Ice Age When: Opens 10 a.m. Saturday and runs through July 17. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Where: Mesa Southwest Museum, 53 N. Macdonald Cost: $6 adults, $5 seniors and students, $3 children ages 3-12 Information: (480) 644-2230 or

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