Lan Luong '22

Lan Luong

Major: Natural Sciences Pre-Health
Bio: Lan is a current sophomore at Fordham University Lincoln Center, pursuing a Natural Sciences degree, with an intent to minor in Psychology and Fashion. She has always been intrigued by the science disciplines, math and science being her favorite subjects even in elementary school. She is both focused and hardworking, and hopes that skills such as these help her to see through her life-long career goal of becoming a pediatric surgeon.

Title of Research: Mastodon Discovery at Hyde Park, New York: Tundra Plants and the Quest for Hair
Partners: Ngawang Choedon (Fordham University, New York, NY), Anusha Imran (Fordham University, New York, NY), Jason Sheldon (Fordham University, New York, NY), and Sabina Bhuiyan (Fordham University, New York, NY)
Mentor: Dr. Guy Robinson
Abstract: During the summer of 1999, several large bones of Mammut americanum(American Mastodon) were uncovered by a backhoe operator engaged in deepening a pond at a suburban home in Hyde Park New York. A nearly complete skeleton was systematically excavated the following year. Hundreds of gallons of mud from around the skeleton were distributed to thousands of school children and volunteers to become the basis of a citizen science project spanning the next several years. The Mastodon Matrix Project showed the site was extraordinarily rich in plant and animal fossils. Other samples collected with stratigraphic control were used to develop radiocarbon dated plant macrofossil and pollen stratigraphies of this unique late Pleistocene deposit. As an extension of the Mastodon Matrix Project, our study analyses sediment collected from direct contact with the skeleton, and focuses on two questions. First, how does the plant macrofossil and invertebrate assemblage of this direct contact material compare with the known macrofossil stratigraphy? And the second very specific question: does this assemblage contain mastodon hair? No study published to date describes mastodon integument, so it is unknown whether these animals had long hair as they are customarily portrayed in reconstructions. Earlier work indicates that mastodon hair shafts were hollow, suggesting the extinct animal had a semi-aquatic habitat. Based on the amount of tundra vegetation in our sample, we conclude that the sediment in direct contact with the skeleton is at least a thousand years older than the animal itself, dated from a tusk fragment at 11,480 +/- 60 radiocarbon years before present. We did not find any clear evidence of hair. However, since material surrounding the skeleton is considerably older than the mastodon, we think that some time post-mortem, the bones sank deep into sediments of the earlier late Pleistocene. Therefore, if hair from the same animal survived the decomposition of other soft tissue, younger sediments located in strata above the skeleton will need to be examined.