For more than 10 thousand years, the mastodon had been in the bog near M-59 in Rochester Hills, undisturbed. But traffic around the area has been a mess lately. And it's time for a new road.
Now a massive yellow backhoe scrapes away the mastodon grave. Four muddy guys stand in the pit and look for bones. One of them is Jim Persinger. He's with the Oakland County Road Commission. And he was one of the workers who first found the bones on Friday.
He says he was with a crew from a company called Dan's Excavating. They were digging in a swamp area, to stabilize the ground for the new road.
When they pulled up a four-foot long thigh bone, he wasn't sure what he was looking at. He says he thought it could have been from a circus elephant. But then he found part of a tusk, and a tooth that's bigger than a softball.
"I've got guys from Dan's Excavating that have been doing this 30 plus years," he says. "They've done hundreds of holes and they've never come across nothing like this before."
Persinger says they called the Cranbrook Institute of Science on Saturday morning. Mike Stafford is Director of the Institute.
He says discoveries like this one are rare, but not unheard of. He says when they come, excavators have to work quick and dirty.
"You'd love to have two months to do a complete hand excavation to get everything in a planned view where you can draw carefully," he says. "The reality of the world is that most finds like these are discovered in the course of construction projects that involve public money, that have time tables and so on. So this is really rescue paleontology at its finest."
Rescue paleontology is rough on the mastodon. The heavy backhoe claw breaks at least one bone.
A Cranbrook spokesman says the bone will be put back together.
But this isn't the vision of paleontology we've been given in the movies. You know, the kind with the scientists using delicate brushes and tiny little picks. This way isn't as precise.
But, for the hundred or so people who've shown up, it is more personal.
Bill McEntee is head of environmental concerns for the Oakland County Road commission. He leads a couple of reporters to his van.
McEntee had the bones in his van at home over the weekend. He says that was the safest place he could think to keep them. And, of course, he figured it wouldn't hurt to show the bones around a bit.
"It's been fun," he says. "[I] Brought the neighborhood kids over so they could see it. So many of these things you'll only see in a museum, when there's a big gate that says 'Do not touch.' Well for a period of time here, we've got stuff you can look at and get your picture taken with. It will probably end up in a museum someplace."
Just as McEntee says this, a woman named Nanette Mayette and her sons Rex and Braun come up to the van.
McEntee sees the kids, pulls out a mastodon rib and hands it to Braun.
"Pretty good size bone, wanna hold that one, get your picture taken?" he says. He grabs another rib for Rex.
Rex notices that the bone is like a hockey stick, and wants to play with it. Mom says no.
Then she snaps a few pictures, and the three of them are on their way.
At the end of the day, the workers only retrieve a fraction of the mastodon skeleton. They have legs, ribs, toes, a piece of the skull, and one huge-looking tooth.
The bones will go to Cranbrook for cleaning.
A spokesman there says he's not sure what will happen after that.
Maybe they'll go on display at Cranbrook. Maybe the county will keep them for some other purpose.
But the people who came to the site will remember the bones differently. They'll remember how smooth and heavy the tooth was. How the leg bones were caked in dirt. And how the ribs were like hockey sticks.
It was an experience 10 thousand years in the making.