On Presidents Day, Wichitan Greg Davis ended up taking his 11-year-old twins, Amy and Luke, on a Kansas outing.
He told them they were on a hunt for dinosaur bones.
At best, he thought they might find a couple of arrowheads or old bottles.
He drove them out by Haven, and the family, at first, began combing the banks of the Arkansas River.
But in the river itself there was a big brown object.
“We were wading in the river, and the river is low and clear,” Davis said Sunday.
He could see this thing submerged in the water.
“We kicked it,” Davis said. “It was hard enough I knew it wasn’t a tire or mud.”
He picked it up. It weighed about 15 to 20 pounds and was a foot in diameter.
“It took us awhile to convince ourselves it was a bone.”
When he got back home, Davis, an environmental engineer, called Patrick Mathews, a biology professor at Friends University.
Mathews recalls looking at some photos Davis e-mailed him.
“It this case it looked a lot like a chicken bone – part of it has that smooth outer coating of a bone,” Mathews said. “But then, you could also see this porous, spongy-looking material. I could tell it was bone. It was dark because it had been in the water and it was not the color you think of bone.”
Mathews recognized it as a large fragment of a very large bone.
But from what?
He called Mike Everhart, adjunct curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays. Everhart last week testified to a state House committee recommending Kansas adopt the Tylosaurus and Pteranodon as the official state fossils of Kansas.
It was no Tylosaurus or Pteranodon bone, but Everhart immediately recognized it as the upper rear leg bone that attaches to the hip of a mammoth or mastodon.
“In the state of Kansas, the mammoth and mastodon bones are quite frequently found in sandpits and river bottoms,” Everhart said.
The ancient relatives to the elephant once roamed worldwide, across Europe, Siberia and down through much of North America, feeding mostly on lush grasses. Columbian mammoths lived on the Kansas plains until about 10,000 years ago. They could sometimes reach a height of 13 feet and weigh 10 tons. Mastodons were slightly smaller, and their teeth were designed to chew a more varied diet than the mammoths’.
Longtime Wichitans may recall that in 2005, a mammoth tusk temporarily delayed construction on Kellogg while it was unearthed.
On Sunday, Amy and Luke Davis were thinking about the discovery.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Amy said of her dad’s find. At first, “I didn’t believe him. I thought it was like a cow bone or a rock. But my dad told me it had to be something.”
Luke said he was hoping he might sell it for a “whole bunch of money.”
Davis said that, for now, it will stay within the family collection.
Amy said she “just might inherit it.”