‘Valley of the Mastodons’ exhibit open at Hemet’s Western Science Center Museum

Cogstone Resource Management Paleontologist Ashley Leger explains to aspiring young “paleontologist” Anja Eldevik, 11, about the huge 3,500-pound Harlan Ground Sloth whose bones were found in the Diamond Valley area along with mastodons and other creatures that one roamed the area thousands of years ago. Dr. Leger is an invited scientist visiting the Western Science Museums opening of the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit at 2346 Searl Parkway in Hemet. Tony Ault photo
Cogstone Resource Management Paleontologist Ashley Leger explains to aspiring young “paleontologist” Anja Eldevik, 11, about the huge 3,500-pound Harlan Ground Sloth whose bones were found in the Diamond Valley area along with mastodons and other creatures that one roamed the area thousands of years ago. Dr. Leger is an invited scientist visiting the Western Science Museums opening of the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit at 2346 Searl Parkway in Hemet. Tony Ault photo

Paleontologists from across the country gathered this past week at the Western Science Center in Hemet to take a closer look at the many well-preserved fossils of Mastodons that once roamed Diamond Valley and found during the Metropolitan Water Districts reservoir excavations in the 1990s.

It was at the opening special event for new Western Science Center Museum’s “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit at 2346 Searl Parkway in Hemet and an opportunity for many scientists, researchers and educators from across the country to take a close look at fossil bones one of the largest ice age fossil collections in the nation.

It was a special day for the visiting researchers who had a chance to carefully examine the fossilized tusks and jawbone from a very large mastodon found in a Diamond Valley dig in 1998 affectionately called “Stevie.” It was of particular interest, Stevie being different from other mastodon fossils found in North America. Stevie’s fossilized bones remained in and enclosed display box in its field jacket for over 10 years until opened just for the visiting paleontologists, said Dr. Alton Dooley, WSC executive director.

The exhibit is now open to the public and students to learn about the mastodons and other huge creatures that lived 40,000 years ago in the Diamond Valley of Hemet.

While at the opening of the “Valley of the Mastodons” exhibit Aug. 2-4 students, local scientists, teachers and others interested in the ice age mammals had an opportunity to hear from paleontologists about their latest discoveries and advances in their studies of the mastodons and mammoths of North America.

“The Western Science Center has an amazing collection of mastodon fossils that I had a brief opportunity to study las summer,” said Dr. Kathlyn Smith, Georgia Southern University paleontologist. “While studying them, I begun to realize how different they were- in size and shape – from mastodons from regions of the country. She was one of the participating researchers who attended a Valley of the Mastodons three-day workshop before the official grand opening of the exhibit Saturday, Aug. 5. “I’m thrilled to find out what new ideas and research opportunities this ‘meeting of the mastodon minds’ will produce and am delighted to share the research process and interact with members of the public through this exhibit.” Dr. Smith will remain at WSC for the summer on leave from the university.

Other participating researchers included Chris Widga from East Tennessee University, Jeremy Green from Kent State University, Eric Scott from Cogstone Resource Management, Gregory Smith from Vanderbilt University, Dr. Bernard Means from Virginia Commonwealth University, Kathleen Springer of the USGS and Dr. Grant Zazula from the Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture.

Springer applauded the WSC workshop for researchers and the public noting “It was sort of a Renaissance of interest in this collection and doing research on this subject. It brings together a bunch of like-minded thinking about mastodons, mammoths and elephants. It may answer different questions and the different facets of their lives.”

Springer was one of the first USGS researchers called to the Diamond Valley reservoir excavation when the fossils were found and has since kept track of the research into the thousands of fossils found at the site.

Dr. Dooley said, “The Diamond Valley Lake fossils are having a major impact on our understanding of ice age California, and mastodons are a big part of that story. WSC’s mastodon collection is the largest on the West Coast and one of the largest in North America, and we’re proud to have this opportunity to advance scientific and public knowledge of these interesting animals.”

In addition to the many fossils on display during the Valley of the Mastodons exhibit it will feature artwork by paleoartist Brian Engh.

The Valley of the Mastodons is sponsored in part by Bone Clones, Inc.; Golden Village Palms RV Resort, Abbott Vascular and California Imaging & Diagnostics.

Cost to visit the museum are: $8 for adults 13 and over; $6.50 for seniors 62+, $6 Youth 5-12, $6.50 students 13-22 with current ID. It is free for youth 4 and under and active military with current ID. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

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