Return to the Ice Age Exhibit at the West Woods

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It just got icy at The West Woods Nature Center.

If you haven’t yet seen Something’s Afoot: Nature Just Can’t Stay Put, a large exhibit about Nature’s modes of tranportation, there’s still 2015 — but as of December 27, part of that exhibit has “moved on over” to dedicate a corner to Return to the Ice Age!

This new special feature focuses on the megafauna, the large mammals, most of which are extinct, that roamed our neighborhoods in the few millennia approximately 9,000-12,000 years ago following the retreat of the last glaciations of the Ice Age.

Visitors are greeted by a megafauna menagerie: skeletons the Ground Sloth and the “terror of the tundra,” the giant Short-faced Bear, both extinct. The lobby also features a lifelike replica of the extinct Elk Moose as well as a Caribou and a Musk Ox mount, two Ice Age animals that survive to the modern day in tundra regions of the northern hemisphere.

Via video and animal figure displays, Return to the Ice Age introduces some of our region’s Ice Age animals that are now extinct, some still found in northern regions of the world, and some that survived to the modern day as local wildlife.

The highlight, however, are bones from Ice Age pachyderms discovered in Geauga County:

A leg bone thought to be from the American Mastodon found while digging a cattle-watering pond in 1871 in Montville Township, from the collections of the University of Mount Union.

Jaw bones and molars from the 1964 mastodon find on the former Telling Belle Vernon Dairy Farm in Novelty, during the dredging of an old glacial kettle pond toward the intention of creating a golf course. The bones, on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, were severely damaged by the dragline bucket. But museum staff and board members who pressed their children (including a young Harvey Webster) into service conducted a meticulous salvage operation yielding hundreds of bone and tusk fragments along with broken bones and jaw fragments.

A jaw and leg bones of a mastodon discovered while enlarging a pond on an Amish farm in Middlefield Township in 1988. These bones, also on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, were determined to be from a young mastodon.

“Sam’s Bones:” a grouping of Woolly Mammoth bones found in the stream gravels of the East Branch of the Chagrin River in Chester Township between 1942 and 1958 by Sam Whiting and family on their farm. Graciously loaned to Geauga Park District by the Whiting family, these represent a very significant Ice Age discovery for Geauga County, if not Ohio, as mammoth finds are very rare compared to mastodon and seldom include this number of bones.

Geauga Park District naturalists have also designed a host of linked programming:

What Causes Ice Ages?

Fridays, January 9 & 23, 7 – 8 PM, Observatory Park’s Robert McCullough Science Center

Ice ages leave some pretty distinct traces behind them, but what causes them in the first place? Trace the story of ice ages’ astronomical connections, from mismatched horoscopes in ancient Greece to a prisoner of war camp in Croatia, from the bottom of the Indian Ocean to the center of the sun. Utilize hands-on models and animation to explore the reasons for Earth’s cyclically changing climate. If the skies are clear, this program will be followed by night-sky viewing using our telescopes; if not, enter the planetarium for one of Astro-Naturalist Chris Mentrek’s famous shows.

Did Big Beasts = Big Feasts? Ice Age Paleoindians and Their Prey

Sunday, January 18, 2-3 PM, The West Woods Nature Center

What caused the rather sudden extinction of huge beasts following the Ice Age? While many scientists contend that climatic change that altered habitats and diminished food sources for large herbivores and the predators that preyed upon them, others point to human hunters as the cause for extinction. Or was it a combination of these and other factors? As the debate rages on, Cleveland Museum of Natural History Archaeologist Dr. Brian Redmond presents the latest evidence for hunting or scavengers Ice Age animals discovered in northern Ohio. Citing Ice Age animal remains discovered in Northeast Ohio’s Western Reserve, including the Firelands ground sloth and the Hartley mastodon, Dr. Redmond describes the indications of Paleoindians butchering by way of tool cut marks, damage from butchering, and unusual arrangements of bones as some of the important indicators of a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the centuries following glaciation.

Nature Explorers: Bodacious Beasts (Ages 6-8 & 9-11)

Saturday, February 21, 2-4 PM, The West Woods Nature Center

Learn about extinct Ice Age animals through games, puppets and a simulated bone dig to assemble a near life-size mammoth skeleton with a miniature version to keep. Registration required at www.geaugaparkdistrict.org or 440-286-9516.

Ice Age Animals of the Western Reserve

Sunday, February 22, 3:30-4:45 PM, The West Woods Nature Center

Naturalist Dan Best provides an overview of the extinct megafauna and extirpated animals that briefly occupied Northeast Ohio.

Ice Age Authentic or Mammoth Malarkey?

Sunday, March 1, 2-3:30 PM, The West Woods Nature Center

In a game show format, contestants are challenged to choose the true identification of Ice Age objects after hearing comedic explanations from a panel of “experts.”

Through April 2015, Geauga Park District’s Return to the Ice Age coincides with, and provides a Geauga County focus complimenting, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s hosting of Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age. Admission is free with museum admission; find details at www.cmnh.org.

Geauga Park District wishes to acknowledge the enthusiastic assistance given by the Cleveland of Museum of Natural History in making this exhibit possible, providing not only mastodon bones from its collections but also expertise of its fine staff most willingly and readily rendered during Return of the Ice Age’s planning and preparation.

The West Woods Nature Center is open daily 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 440-286-9516 with questions.

For more information on the Geauga Park District, check them out online on their website, Facebook page, Twitter, and YouTube.

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