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Drought Leads to Discovery of Extinct Harlan's Muskox Vertebra

  Drought Leads to Discovery of Extinct Harlan's Muskox Vertebra   

Image from

Fossil found in the Sangamon River by a Springfield family now on display

at the Illinois State Museum, Springfield

SPRINGFIELD – This summer's extreme drought led to a rare discovery of a vertebra from an extinct Harlan’s muskox, which is now on display in the lobby of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. Tony Blisset of Springfield discovered the vertebra on July 29 while wading in chin-deep water in the Sangamon River during a family outing at Riverside Park. The next day Tony and his family (Bridgette, Gavin, and Jon) brought the bone to the Museum's Research and Collections Center for identification. Museum paleontologists Drs. Jeffrey Saunders and Chris Widga recognized it as a neck vertebra from a large head-butting mammal. Comparison to other fossils revealed it to be from the extinct Harlan's muskox (Bootherium bombifrons).

This vertebra is only the thirteenth find of Harlan's muskox in Illinois. After Dr. Saunders explained the significance of his discovery, Tony Blisset donated the vertebra to the Illinois State Museum.  "Jeff told me the significance of it, and being that I didn't have a way to preserve it, I thought it would be better to donate it to the Museum.  The legacy of the story will always be in my family,” said Tony Blisset.  The Illinois State Museum is grateful to the Blisset family for donating this Ice Age treasure to the Illinois State Museum.  

Local river gages indicate the Sangamon River was 11 feet lower in July than had been recorded in May. The vertebra likely eroded out of the sediments during high water and was redeposited. The lower water levels resulting from the drought led to the discovery of this remnant from the Ice Age.  Harlan's muskox lived in Illinois during the Ice Age (2.7 million to 12,000 years ago).  Harlan's muskox was taller and more slender than the modern muskox. Unlike the modern tundra muskox, it did not survive the rapid environmental change at the end of the last Ice Age.

The vertebra is on display in the Museum, along with additional muskox fossils from the Museum’s collections.  A fleshed out reconstruction of Harlan's muskox is part of the Pleistocene forest-tundra diorama in the Changes exhibition.  The exhibit can be viewed during regular Museum hours:  8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. 

The Illinois State Museum promotes discovery, learning, and an appreciation of Illinois’ natural, cultural, and artistic heritage. The Museum’s extensive collections and research activities provide the foundation for exhibitions and public programs that tell the story of the land, life, people, and art of Illinois. The Illinois State Museum is located at 502 S. Spring Street (the corner of Spring and Edwards Streets) in Springfield, and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5:00 p.m. Sunday.  Admission is free.  Parking is available nearby, and the building is ADA accessible.

Friday, August 31, 2012

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Illinois State Museum
Founded 1877
The Illinois State Museum promotes discovery, learning, and an appreciation of Illinois' natural, cultural, and artistic heritage.
General Information: (217)782-7386
Director's Office: (217)782-7011
Interim Museum Director: Michael Wiant
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