‘What I Did This Summer’ unforgettable for Sumner kids

CUTLINE: Pictured with a mastodon tooth that could be as much as 20,000 years old, are (l-r) Brynlee Volker, 10; Brylie Volker, 12; Chase Redfern, 11; and Michael Koch, 12. All live in rural Sumner, except Koch, who is from Fredericksburg. The youth are standing in the shallow creek where they found the fossilized tooth on Saturday, June 15. They later had it identified by professors at Upper Iowa University, Fayette. (Janell Bradley photo)


‘What I Did This Summer’ unforgettable for Sumner kids


Janell Bradley
Contributing Writer


When four young friends return to school this fall, they'll have a great story to tell about “What I Did This Summer.” And there will be newspaper articles and video footage from national television to support their experience.

After watching the Hawkeye Fun Days parade on Saturday, June 15, sisters Brylie and Brynlee Volker, their cousin Michael Koch and friend Chase Redfern returned to the Volker home in rural Sumner, a couple of miles south of Highway 93.

While their parents moved fair calves to a fenced area the kids, bored with the task, asked to go play in a nearby stream. The four soon set to work building a dam so the water would be deep enough to keep them cool.

That's when Brynlee, 10, tripped over what she thought was a rock or a piece of wood. As the kids attempted to dislodge a stick from the obstruction, Chase got a closer look and lifted it from the water.

From the beginning, the kids thought the brown object looked like a tooth, but they weren't sure of its origin. 

Tim Arthur flaked a piece from the object and chewing on it, determined it was bone, not petrified wood as some in the group guessed.

Days later, Chase's mom, Amanda Arthur, inquired at Upper Iowa University to see if the tooth could be authenticated.

Dr. Katherine McCarville, associate professor of geosciences at Upper Iowa University, responded in an email that the kids' find is indeed the tooth of a mastodon, which may have lived in their area as long as 20,000 years ago. 

"There were many different kinds of elephants in North America during the past few million years, including mammoths, mastodons, four-tuskers and others," said McCarville.

"The last of these died out about 12,700 years ago in the Great Pleistocene Extinction, which may have been driven by climate change, overhunting, diseases, or some combination of factors," she further explained.

Upper Iowa has on display a partial mastodon jaw that was found near West Union. A mastodon tooth was also found in a gravel pit near Clermont, as listed in a publication to which McCarville provided a link.

The Volker girls' mom, Shellie, said that in many years the creek is actually dry, which may explain why the fossilized tooth is in such good condition.

In recent days, the children and some of their siblings have returned to the unnamed stream looking for other fossilized specimens, but so far have turned up empty-handed. However, they're still pretty excited by the publicity they've received since making the find.

Brylie, who is 12, said that while picking up rock Friday, the kids she was working with kept teasing, "Is this a mastodon tooth?" with each rock that was picked up. Yet she admits that when she travels to Indiana this week to compete in the Dairy Quiz Bowl as part of the National Holstein Convention, she hopes there might be a few people she'll encounter who saw her on television.

The kids say they want to share their find with others. They hope to put it on display in local libraries and possibly show it at the Fayette County Fair later this month, where they will be participating in activities as 4-H'ers.

If the mastodon tooth eventually makes its way to a museum, they think that would be pretty cool, too.



About Mastodons:

According to Wikipedia, mastodons were similar in appearance to elephants and mammoths. Compared to mammoths, mastodons had shorter legs, longer bodies and were more heavily muscled. The average body size was around 7 ft. 7 in. in height at the shoulders, corresponding to a large female or a small male; large males could grow up to 9 feet in height and weigh as much as 4.5 tons. They had a low and long skull with long curved tusks. Mastodons had cusp-shaped teeth, different from mammoth and elephant teeth (which have a series of enamel plates), well-suited for chewing leaves and branches of trees and shrubs. They lived in herds and were predominantly forest-dwelling animals that fed on a mixed diet of browsing and grazing.




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