WILMINGTON — Don Muchmore recalls, as a young boy, hearing family members recount the story of a 10,000-year-old mastodon tusk found on their family farm near Clarksville in the mid-1950s.
“When I came to the College in 1970, there was the tusk hanging in Kettering Hall that my dad told me about,” he said on the day this spring when he was reunited with the extraordinary artifact the College held for more than six decades.
Muchmore is a member of Wilmington College’s Class of 1973 and a recently retired mathematics professor. He recently transported the tusk to Fort Ancient Museum, Earthworks and Nature Preserve in Warren County, where it’s being stored until the Ohio Historical Society Restoration Lab is able to work on the prized, albeit decaying, artifact.
He noted that his father and grandfather had a gravel pit on an area of the family farm in the 1950s before selling that part of their property to W.A. “Bud” Roberts. Just days after the sale, a seven-foot-long mastodon tusk was discovered in the glacial deposit.
Roberts contacted noted naturalist and local physician Kelley Hale, M.D., who arranged for the tusk to be given to the College, which possessed an impressive collection of fossils, mineral stones and other ancient items found in the area.
Muchmore couldn’t recall the exact story on how the tusk ended up in their former gravel pit, but surmised, “The tusk arrived here on a glacier or the mastodon may have walked into Clarksville and died,” he joked.
In 1958, when the College first displayed the tusk, biology Professor Frank Hazard offered a more scientific explanation about the incisor from an American mastodon, the elephant-like animal that lived during the end of the Pleistocene epoch — Ice Age — as late as 10,000 years ago.
Hazard wrote the forest-dwelling animal ranged Europe, Asia across Alaska and southward through the United States. He noted that true elephants existed at the same time and, “surprisingly,” both elephants and mastodons roamed the area that is now the United States — “and in the U.S., the mastodons outlived the elephants.”
While earlier mastodons had four ivory tusks, the American version had only two, and these reached the length of nine feet, according to Hazard. The mastodon was equal in size to the typical circus elephant, the Indian elephant, about seven to nine feet tall, but “stockier and more robust” than the Indian elephant. A contemporary, the mammoth. reached an even larger size.
“It’s difficult to determine the age of the tusk, as it was broken loose from its skeleton,” Hazard added, noting it was buried in the deposit of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet, which began about 70,000 years ago and melted away about 10,000 years ago.
“We can be sure that the tusk is 10,000 years old, but how much older is a matter of speculation.”
Hazard and Hale’s son, Nathan Hale, M.D., banded the tusk, which broke into several places during the excavation process and filled in decayed areas with plaster-of-paris before displaying it, first in a showcase in Bailey Hall of Science in the late 1950s and later mounting it on the large stairwell wall in Kettering Science Hall after that structure’s commissioning in 1960.
When Kettering was gutted in 2015 for the complete renovation and expansion that became the Center for the Sciences and Agriculture, the tusk was removed and stored in a College facility on Fife Avenue near the Academic Farm.
Muchmore, who retired from the faculty in 2020, remembered the tusk story from his youth and viewing it almost daily as both a student and for many years as a professor in Kettering Hall. Since the tusk didn’t fit into the CSS facility’s contemporary aesthetics, he and College officials agreed the artifact should. be on display where persons could learn from and enjoy this piece of natural history.
“I thought the ideal place for it would be Fort Ancient,” he said.