Amazing citizen science opportunity!

This is seriously awesome. Researchers with the Mastadon Matrix Project need help sifting through "matrix" — the dirt that a fossil is embedded in. Join the Project, and you'll be sent a kilogram of matrix from a mastadon dig in New York State. You can do the analysis with inexpensive, easy-to-find equipment, and then send your discoveries back to the scientists. It's a great chance to do real, valuable scientific research in your school or home. Check it out! (Via Karen Traphagen)


  1. Weird…  I was in college in Poughkeepsie (a couple towns south of the site) when this was discovered, and then a couple years ago I lived a quarter mile down the road from the Museum of the Earth…  bringing some of the matrix into my home feels like the logical conclusion, and I already have archaeological training to boot!

  2. I wonder how much time and money they actually save by doing this. How difficult is it to sift through a kilogram of dirt? Does that outweigh the difficulty of packing and shipping a whole mess of dirt? How did they come to this decision?

    1. It depends, honestly. Some kilos are easy to screen, I’ve worked sites where the matrix is like beach sand, and anything left is remnants of human activity. Others, like from quarry sites, are so chock full of seeming identical material that it can take an hour or two per kilo to sift the stuff from the nearly identical not-stuff. Doing flotation samples to extract faunal and floral material adds even more time.

      I imagine they came to it not just by weighing the time and money, but the worth of public outreach, which should be pretty compelling.

  3. I’m the manager of the Mastodon Matrix Project at the Paleontological Research Institution, in Ithaca, NY.  We do this citizen science project for a few reasons; (1) we don’t have enough graduate students to sift through the 22,000 kilos of matrix (dirt from around the mastodon) so this helps researchers get through the matrix in a much more timely manner, and (2) we have participants sort all the plant, animal, rock and the “Boy!  I don’t know what this is, but it sure looks interesting!” from the matrix, and, based on what the find, ask them to put together what they think the Pleistocene looked like in this area 14,000 years ago.  We have them do actual science – exactly what I would have my grad students do to sort the material, and make educated guesses about the past.  It gives folks an understanding of the process of science, and how we know what we know about past environments. Mathew is right – now more than ever, we need people to understand what the process of science is, and these types of citizen science projects are not only a blast to do, but also a great way to get people engaged in science. 

    The Discovery Channel came out and filmed us excavating the mastodon out of the backyard of some very gracious and accommodating folks.  The show DC aired was called, “Mastodon in Your Backyard” and is fantastic as it show all us paleontologists up to our bellybuttons in muck, shouting “I Found A Bone!!!!!.  The show also talks about why the science of paleontology is relevant to many of the issues we face today, as well as the process of reconstructing an extinct creature from a pile of bones.  It is no longer distributed, but I have short copies of the show that I send out to those who ask.

    We’ve had over 50,000 participants since 2000, and as of this month, when I’ll send matrix out to folks in Australia, we will have had participants on every continent save Antarctica. 
    If you have any questions, Google “Mastodon Matrix” and drop me a line –

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