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Tusky Titan Finds New Home at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex

Photo by Alan Olson Visitors to the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex can catch a glimpse of the skeleton of a stegodon, an evolutionary cousin to the modern elephant and extinct mammoths and mastodons.

MOUNDSVILLE — Visitors to the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex will get an eyeful as soon as they enter the museum area, as an exhibit is making a new home as the centerpiece — an ancient relative of modern elephants, the stegodon.

The stegodon lived from around 11.6 million years ago up until around 4,100 years ago, and is believed to be an evolutionary cousin — though not an ancestor — of modern elephants and extinct mammoths and mastodons. The one on display at the Mound was found in China, and originally made its home in Charleston until the museum housing it closed down. It was then granted to the Moundsville museum on permanent loan by Ray and Mary Ellen Garton, of Prehistoric Planet.

Site Manager Jeremy Kohus said it took a team of eight people a full day to assemble the mammal’s massive skeleton, as while the individual pieces may not be as heavy as their size suggests, the delicate work and large, awkward mass of the plaster casts made it a tricky proposition.

“It’s all fairly light — you could lift most of the pieces up, but especially the skull was the most difficult,” he said. “This pulley comes down, so we had to walk it up. It was interesting! Not many people can say they set up a dinosaur.”

The stegodon’s skeleton arrived at the museum in January, and Kohus said its arrival was likely the most notable new addition in some time. Looking forward, however, construction is set to begin this week on a replica Adena dwelling. Construction on the hut is to begin Monday and should take about 10 days, Kohus said. Upon completion, this will mark the first time in years that all exhibit spaces at the complex are filled.

“This spot’s been empty for years, at least the six years I’ve been here. We’re building a replica of an Adena hut. … We have the real deal coming in. We bought real birch, the actual wood they would have used. They’re just logs that are thatched together all the way around,” Kohus said. “When that’s done, I’ll have all exhibit space filled, that’s a first for seven years. There’s always been empty spots, but we’ll have filled them all.

Kohus said he hopes the Adena exhibits, in conjunction with the stegodon and other fossils on display, will remind people that the archaeological complex isn’t just a Native American history museum — they’re far, far older than the relatively recent settlements in the area. The Adena people’s culture stretched across an area that contains parts of modern Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and lived more than 2,000 years ago.

“What we like to point out to people is, don’t think of this as your typical Native American history. This is their ancestors. This is before what we even think of. We’re not really a Native American museum, we’re a prehistoric museum.”

Later in the month, Cultural Program Coordinator Andrea Keller said a local Cub Scout pack is going to come and assist the planting of a “three sisters” garden: squash, beans and corn, which were vital to the people of the area. The outdoor area at the Mound features newly flowering pawpaw trees, which were a gift from a Native American group, which only just recently started to bear fruit.

“We’re really thrilled, because this year, the one pawpaw, it’s the first year that it’s bloomed,” Keller said. “The shrubs and trees were donated five years ago by the Seneca Nation. It takes a while for them to start producing.”

In the summer, Keller said June 19 will feature a Juneteenth observance, with a discussion on the date’s significance by Ron Scott, Cultural Diversity and Community Outreach Director for the Wheeling YWCA. Following that, Keller said, the complex hopes to kick off a slew of outdoor events over the course of the summer.

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