Mastodons were big, prehistoric beasts that bore a passing resemblance to mammoths and elephants, although they were not closely related. They could be found during the late Miocene up to their extinction at the end of the Pleistocene, about 11,000 years ago.
The Museum of the Earth, located in Ithaca, New York, has a delightful project that allows would-be researchers to get their hands dirty… literally. People who participate in the Mastodon Matrix Project get mailed a bag of “matrix” sediment from a well-preserved mastodon site in Dutchess County, New York. Just as with a full-time professional scientist, the citizen scientist’s job in this case is to carefully examine the material, sort it into various categories, and record their observations.
In general, participants will sort organic from inorganic things, lithic from non-lithic things, and document anything that appears interesting. The bag comes with detailed instructions on what to do and what household materials you’ll need to complete the project. The idea is to get a clear picture of the mastodon’s environment at the time. The sorted sediment is sent back to the museum for further processing.
A typical bag might include twigs, bone or tusk fragments, charcoal, teeth, insects, leaves, and sticks.
To get involved, you can contact the project director here.