Scientists take over Western Science Center for ‘Valley of the Mastodons’ event

The public is invited to attend the three-day event beginning Aug. 2 that kicks off the Center’s new Mastodon exhibit

Photo by Jim Watters
Max the Mastodon, Western Science Center’s prized specimen, is the largest mastodon ever found in California. He was discovered during the construction and excavation of what is now Diamond Valley Lake. Visitors can see Max during the Valley of the Mastodons exhibit in August.

■ Kyle Selby / Reporter

Paleontologists from across the country will visit Diamond Valley Lake next week for the Western Science Center’s new Valley of the Mastodons exhibit opening Aug. 5. Special events begin Aug. 2 leading up to the grand opening.
“I don’t think it’s something anybody’s ever done before,” said Brittney Stoneburg, marketing and event specialist for the Western Science Center.
During the Metropolitan Water District’s excavation of Diamond Valley Lake, dozens of mastodon remains and fossils were uncovered, which earned Hemet the nickname “Valley of the Mastodons” among the scientific community.
Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 2, scientists from across North America will arrive to participate in an interactive workshop and lecture series starting with the opening of “Little Stevie’s” case–a juvenile mastodon that has been underground for more than a decade.
“Since the museum opened in 2006, [Little Stevie]’s been encased in our floor in our exhibit hall,” explained Stoneburg. “It will be the first time in 10 years that that case will be open, and that he’ll be studied.”
Visitors will be able to witness Little Stevie’s case during regular admission hours, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and will be able to engage with scientists who will be studying the preserved mastodon remains throughout the week.

Photo by Brittney Stoneburg
“Blaze,” one of the mastodons that will be featured in the exhibit.

Doors for the visiting scientists’ workshop open at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 3, free to WSC members and students with ID. Educator with ID are $5. Regular admission fees apply to all others. The scientists will present lectures and research during the day, which will begin at 8:15 a.m. with an introduction by WCS Executive Director Dr. Alton Dooley. The morning will conclude at 11:50 a.m. with a “Beyond the Valley of the Mastodons: 3-D Technology and Ice Age Animals of North America,” presentation by Dr. Bernard Means. A copy of the entire schedule can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/mastodonevent.
“Really, what we’re trying to do is break down the barriers between the public and the scientific process,” said Stoneburg.
Dr. Kathlyn Smith, a vertebrate paleontologist at Georgia Southern University, is one of the scientists returning to WSC after visiting last summer to measure mastodon tusks. Dr. Bernard K. Means also is returning.
Other participating researchers include Chris Widga (East Tennessee University), Jeremy Green (Kent State University), Eric Scott (Cogstone Resource Management), Gregory Smith (Vanderbilt University), Kathleen Springer (USGS), Dr. Grant Zazula (Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture), and Michael Pasenko (Environmental Planning Group). The exhibit will also feature artwork by paleoartist Brian Engh.
“So really we’re just trying to get every mastodon expert we can in the room, and let them study these mastodons, and show the public while they’re doing it,” said Stoneburg.

Photo by Brittney Stoneburg
A mastodon jaw in a CT scanner at California Imaging & Diagnostics.

What else is there to learn about mastodons after mankind had first stumbled on their remains over 300 years ago? According to Stoneburg, “so much!”
She says most of the mastodons in the museum’s collection have not been on public display before nor have they been extensively studied. The scientists will be studying the mastodons during the exhibit, so visitors can ask questions and witness the scientific process firsthand.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know about mastodons,” she explained. “One of the things we’re trying to say is mastodons are different from mammoths.”
To the untrained eye, mastodons and mammoths share a lot of the same physical characteristics; however WSC is determined to highlight the differences between the two very separate species.
During educational outreach programs, Stoneburg brings two different sets of teeth to show students. One, a set of replica mastodon teeth, and the other, a set of replica mammoth teeth. Just by identifying the contrastive characteristics between each set of teeth, due to each’s specific diet, people can leave with a better understanding of their more dissimilar traits.
WSC members are also invited to a reception at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4 that will mark the exhibit’s opening. Light refreshments will be served, and museum members will be first to witness the newest exhibit.
Admission to the Western Science Center is $8 for adults, $6.50 for seniors 62+, $6.50 for students 13-22 with ID, $6 for youth 5-12. Children under 4 are free, as are active military with ID.
The Valley of the Mastodons exhibit officially opens to the public Saturday, Aug. 5 and will run until early 2018.

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