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The views and opinions expressed on these pages are those of the developer and not necessarily those of Waubonsee Community College, its Trustees, or its administration.

Aurora Mastodont Project - Matrix Analyses Project


Bringing cutting-edge scientific research into classrooms is pedagogically effective, fun and inspirational for students.  Most obstacles to bringing research into classrooms involve identifying appropriate research topics and samples, and many times the samples involve specialized or expensive equipment.  The Aurora Mastodont Project (AMP) can provide an opportunity to bring authentic research into your Middle School, High School and College classrooms or labs with limited logistics.  We will send to your classroom, free of charge, a sample of screenwash to be analyzed and processed by your students.

The 2004 AMP was a joint project between the City of Aurora, the Illinois State Museum and Waubonsee Community College to uncover a (rumored) fourth mastodont skull left after multiple mastodont remains were discovered in the 1930’s by the Civil Works Administration (3 skulls, 1 jaw, 3 tusks, 3 ribs, 1 scapula, 1 ulna, 1 femur, toe bones, 1 set of articulated cervical vertebrae, 1 set of articulated thoracic vertebrae).  The 2004 AMP did not recover any additional mastodont remains, but it did illustrate the scientific and pedagogic importance of the Aurora Mastodonts.  One of the many results of the 2004 AMP was that we now have significant quantities of sediment (screenwash) from the layer that the original mastodonts were discovered in that was systematically excavated, washed, and recorded, thereby retaining its stratigraphic control.  This screenwash contains small bones, snails, plants, and other debris.  Small screenwash samples (approximately 50 ml) will be sent to your classroom for sorting and description, engaging students as collaborators in site interpretation of the project.  This project is contributing to the current research into climate change during the most recent glaciation 30,000 to 10,000 years ago, and extinct Midwestern megafauna.  Analyses of the processed screenwash can incorporate data processing and analysis techniques, as well as interpretation of Illinois and Midwest climates, and discussion of the broader global conditions using lesson plans that are provided below.


Here are some instructions for processing and sorting the screenwash

Click on this link ( to go to Google Docs to download a powerpoint presentation on AMP - MAP that you may use in your class.  When the window opens, open the file "AMPMAP_Intro" and click on the "Download original" in the right corner.

We have provided a teachers guide, which contains a series of lesson plans and a detailed set of instructions and background information for processing and sorting the screenwash.  

Here is a chart of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that can be achieved in your Middle School or High School classes.

Here is a lab exercise that has been used by one of the organizers (DV) in his college level Earth Science and Geology labs.  Please feel free to modify it to suit your pedagogic goals.  This is based upon a collaboration with Karen Kortz, from the Community College of Rhode Island.

The data generated by your students wil be recorded in the form that is in the instructions that is also at the end of the lab (above), which you will send back with the sorted sample.  Your students data will also be added to our database ( ) so that they can compare their results to colleagues around the country.

When you are finished with the project, please complete an evaluation form and send in with your processed screenwash

Here are examples of data analyses that you may do in Excel: standardized density and scaled density of each sorted fraction

There is no fee for participating in this project.  We only ask that you have fun with your students, send the sorted screenwash, sample log, and evaluation form back to us, and that you pay for the return postage.  If you find that this is a useful project in your classes, and you would like to repeat it in subsequent semesters, please let us know, and we will send more screenwash out to you.

Additional resources

We presented a poster  at the Geological Society of America conferenence in Minneapolis, MN on 11 October 2011

We had a workshop (P85) at the Illinois Science Teachers Association meeting on 29 October 2011

Here is a species list of the gastropods that you will see.  You can use this for deeper ecologic and paleoenvironmental study.

Here is a list of the macrobotanicals (plant material) that have been identified.  You can use this for deeper ecologic and paleoenvironmental study.


Thank you for your interest and participation in this exciting project.

David H. Voorhees
Earth Science & Geology
Waubonsee Community College
Rt 47 @ Waubonsee Dr,
Sugar Grove, IL 60554,

Chris Widga    
Illinois State Museum Research and Collections Center
1011 East Ash St,
Springfield, IL 62703

Paul Ritter  
Pontiac High School
1100 E Indiana Ave
Pontiac, IL 61764

Brian Hitchins
Pontiac High School
1100 E Indiana Ave
Pontiac, IL 61764