Mastodons: the oldest known New Yorkers

Mastodons were those 10-foot-tall elephant-like creatures with enormous curved tusks. They roamed North America at the end of the last ice age about 18,000 years ago, and because they loved forests and woodlands, it’s no surprise that they made their home in the woods of New York City. Their remains have been found in all five boroughs.

The first fossils turned up in Queens in 1858. More fossils—tusks—were discovered in Inwood in 1885 and 1891. 

Just another 10,000-pound mastodon strolling through the forests of Manhattan in Pleistocene times:


The most recent fossils, a jaw and 14 teeth, were found in 1925 on Payson Avenue and Dyckman Street in Inwood. They were discovered 22 feet below ground while construction workers were excavating a building. “Bones!” a worker called out, after realizing what he’d hit with his shovel. 

A New York Times article a few days after the discovery reported that the bones had the thickness of young tree trunks. The bones were immediately handed over to the Museum of Natural History, but not before 13 of the 14 teeth had already gone missing—probably ending up in the pockets of souvenir collectors.

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3 Responses to “Mastodons: the oldest known New Yorkers”

  1. Digging the IRT subway reveals a buried treasure « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] these are fossilized mastodon bones, the hull of a Dutch ship from 1613, and an ostrich egg–size gemstone dubbed the subway […]

  2. The lost dinosaurs buried under Central Park | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Mastodon bones and other fossilized creatures have turned up occasionally in New York City. […]

  3. A Revolutionary War sword turns up in Tudor City | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] wooden ships, mastodon teeth and bones—construction crews over the years have come upon some pretty wild artifacts while digging into […]

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