Sign at entrance to Big Bone Lick State Park and outdoor diorama of ice age mammals at the park. A mastodon and giant ground sloth stand along the bush line, and a mammoth is stuck in the mud in the foreground.

Sign at entrance to Big Bone Lick State Park and outdoor diorama of ice age mammals at the park. A mastodon and giant ground sloth stand along the bush line, and a mammoth is stuck in the mud in the foreground.

A common misconception is that the bones from Big Bone Lick are the bones of dinosaurs. This is likely a case of lumping all ancient creatures into the category “dinosaurs.” Dinosaurs were reptiles that lived more than 65 million years ago in the Mesozoic Era. The fossil bones from Big Bone Lick are from mammals that lived during the much more recent Pleistocene Epoch of the Cenozoic Era, often called the ice age, and are distinctly different than dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were long extinct when mammoths and mastodons roamed the earth. Fossil-bearing layers at Big Bone Lick have been dated at 11,000 to 12,000 years old (Tankersley and others, 2009).

Some of the fossil bones of ice-age mammals collected in an excavation at Big Bone Lick in 1963 by the University of Nebraska. The bones are in the university’s paleontological collections. Mastodon teeth; mammoth tooth; ground sloth claw; ground sloth skull; stag-moose antler; bison skull

Some of the fossil bones of ice-age mammals collected in an excavation at Big Bone Lick in 1963 by the University of Nebraska. The bones are in the university’s paleontological collections. Photographs by Stephen Greb.

Fossils of extinct Pleistocene mammals found at Big Bone Lick (Cooper, 1931; Schultz and others, 1963; Jillson, 1968; Tankersley and others, 2009) include:

  • Bison antiquus

    ancient bison or ice age bison

  • Bootherium bombifrons

    helmeted musk ox, sometimes called Harlan's musk ox

  • Cervalces scotti

    Scott's stag-moose, sometimes called an elk-moose

  • Equus complicatus

    complex-tooth horse

  • Mammut americanum

    American mastodon

  • Mammuthus columbi

    Columbian mammoth

  • Mammuthus primigenius

    wooly mammoth

  • Megalonyx jeffersoni

    Jefferson's giant ground sloth

  • Paramylodon harlani

    Harlan's ground sloth, historically reported as Mylodon


  • Fossils of animals that survived the late Pleistocene extinctions of large mammals in North America and whose descendants are still alive today, including modern bison, black bears, caribou, deer, elk, tapirs, and wolves, have also been found at Big Bone Lick. In fact, bison bones are probably the most commonly found in past excavations.

    Bones of some of the ice age mammals and life-size reconstructions of some of the ancient animals can be seen in a small museum at Big Bone Lick State Park. The nearby Cincinnati Natural History Museum also has reconstructions of the local ice age.

     

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    Last Modified on 2019-03-14
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