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Really Old Pollen


The smallest items owned by the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck are samples of pollen grains that are from 10 to 12 thousand years old.

The reconstructed skeleton of an elephant-like Highgate mastodon greets visitors inside the Center’s Museum. While studying it, paleontologist John Hoganson discovered a cavity in a breast bone that still held some dirt from the pond that entombed the animal. Tests revealed more than 200 grains of pollen that indicated the mastodon probably foraged in a boreal forest with some grassy areas.

Pollen from trees included 1 tamarack, 4 birch, 3 ash, 18 oak, 1 elm, 3 ironwood, 1 butternut and 1 hickory. In contrast, there were 156 grains of spruce pollen. In his botanical report, John McAndrews, curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, wrote, “No vertebrate today eats spruce and thus the extinction of mastodon has left an unoccupied ecological niche.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm