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Geology Museum
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Vertebrate room at the University of Wisconsin geology museum.
Location: The museum is located on the first floor of Weeks Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Weeks Hall is located at the corner of W. Dayton Street and Charter Street. View maps.

Dates and Times: Open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and on Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm

Contact: For more information, visit the Geology Museum website or call 608-262-2399. By mail, contact: Geology Museum, Department of Geoscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1215 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53706. For group tours call 608-262-1412.

Fees: None

Accessibility: Accessible for people with disabilities or mobility impairments: view accessibility map. If you need special accommodations or information on accessible parking, please call the museum at 608-262-1412.

Museum Description: The Geology Museum offers many displays and information on the Geology of Wisconsin. It also features the famous Boaz mastodon discovered by members of the Dosch family in 1897. It was restored in 1915. The skeleton is nearly complete and, since even partial specimens of mastodons are rare, the Boaz mastodon is an extraordinary find.

Mastodons are relatives of today's elephants. Remains of these large animals have been found in Ice Age and younger deposits in Wisconsin and throughout the United States. We know from studying their skeletons that the adults stood from eight to 10 feet tall at the shoulder, was about 16 feet long, and weighed between eight and 10 tons. It is more difficult to make comments about their behavior because, unlike their skeletons, their behavior is not preserved. Using the information we have from their skeletons, and comparing them to modern elephants, we can make the following speculative comments.

Mastodons moved through a fixed area, or range, during their lives. Within these ranges, there would have been areas that were used often as feeding areas, drinking areas, wallows, mineral licks, and rubbing trees. A network of trails, some heavily used, would have led to and from these favorite sites. Mastodons lived in coniferous forests containing bogs, ponds, marshes, and more open areas. Since mastodons were browsers, they preferred feeding on vegetation growing around standing water. Herd sizes of two to nine animals were probably the norm, but groupings of up to 30 animals were probably also common. The herds usually consisted of adult females and their offspring. Occasionally an adult male may have been in the group. Mastodons became extinct about 9,000 years ago. Their extinction was probably a result of their inability to adapt to dramatic changes in the environment.

For many years the primary interest in this great beast, was the skeleton itself. It wasn't until 1962 that a geology professor from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Harris Palmer, learned that two spear points may have been recovered with the Boas mastodon. This discovery and his subsequent investigations led to the startling realization that the Boaz Mastodon site was one of Wisconsin's earliest archaeological sites. Boaz was a place where American Indians killed and butchered a mastodon. The spear point found at the site is made from Silver Mound quartzite. It is fluted, typical of spear points dating to this period, and is on display.

Comments: The Dosch brothers made a fateful decision when they decided to collect the bones in 1897. Without their interest, the information may never have come to public attention. The Boaz mastodon site also illustrates the importance of maintaining long-term records. Without the accompanying paper documents and early photographs, much important information about the site would not now be known. All of these documents and the spear points are still available for study today. This is important as new questions come to light and new ways of looking at artifacts become available. The purchase of skeletons like the Boaz mastodon was common museum practice in 1890s. The commercial aspects of this type of work have disappeared in recent years.

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