Note to Teachers


Welcome to the Mastodon Experience.

Please take time to explore this companion website to the Mastodon exhibit now on display at Union County’s Trailside Nature & Science Center.

Because Trailside has literally thousands of fairly young visitors, we have tried to keep the exhibit simple.  The displays include Mastodon bones discovered in Lenape Park in Cranford, believed to date back nearly 25,000 years, along with fossils of creatures that roamed the waters and land of Pangaea nearly 200 million years ago, discovered in the Watchung Reservation, not far from the nature center.

We have tried to bring together resources on this website, so that whether it is a lesson for an elementary school class or an A.P. science class, you will find the resources to discuss these finds.

Regardless of age, you will find that the issue of climate change runs through this exhibit, as it did at the NJ State Museum and the Indiana State Museum, who graciously provided the murals in this exhibition.

We have included a variety of links for more detailed information on various related topics:

> The Paleontology Portal, the National Science Foundation-funded website that brought together experts from across the country to explain paleontology in an extremely understandable way, and at multiple grade levels, complete with lesson plans geared to middle and high school students;

> The Smithsonian, where there is an explanation about the differences between mastodons and mammoths;

> National Geographic, which explores evidence of the hunting of mastodons by man, along with their extremely colorful and interactive Time Line that traces Earth’s 4.5 billion-year evolution;

> The National Academy of Sciences, on the continuing debate over the extinction of large species due to climate change (We expect to have the full transcript of this article when it is released this fall);

> The U.S. Geological Survey, which explains how the rocks we see today, along with our topography, came to be.

For your most advanced classes, we have assembled academic papers dealing with this region, known as the Newark Supergroup.  You will also find papers dealing with the Connecticut River area, which parallels this area in geologic development.

There is one more thing that you might want to note in your date book.  While the paleontologists who excavated the mastodon dig site in 1936 are no longer with us, we are very fortunate in that Dr. Paul Olsen, of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, who found the fossils in the Watchung Reservation, is still very much alive and well.  We hope to have him make a guest appearance at Trailside this fall to discuss his explorations.

School groups are always welcome at Trailside, which is open every day.  Should you wish to combine a visit to TNSC with a program with our naturalists, please call (908) 789-3670.  Trailside is located in the heart of the 2,060-acre Watchung Reservation, with more 40 miles of hiking trails, a lake, picnic areas, open fields, riding stable, playground area and unlimited fresh air.

Finally, as this is the first time that we have mounted an exhibition of this magnitude, we would truly welcome your feedback. If you have any suggestions, whether for the exhibit, or the website, please feel free to email them to mastodon@ucnj.org.

To view lesson plans, click here.