How Volusia County Bones Link to Prehistoric Landmass
by Denise White
If we could imagine the real ice age instead of a cartoon version, we would see animals that died during that period. They call it the Pleistocene epoch, or for an ice age word, glaciations. It lasted from 2.1 million to 13,000 years ago. The whole world wasn’t covered in ice as the movie shows, but about 30% of the earth was.
How does that affect modern day Florida? Ice sheets and glaciers hold huge amounts of water. As the ice melted, water flowed south from the runoffs. This created large lakes and basins that fed the grasses, trees and plants. Food and water attracted the animals that came to drink and eat food on the banks. Today, many of the lake beds are dry land. The animals that died during the Pleistocene era are buried in the sediment of the lake beds.
Before bones were discovered in North America, it was believed sloths lived primarily in South America, where the continent was cut off from most of the world. If that’s the case, how did these giant beasts go from South America to Florida? The giant ground sloth was looking for food. They were plant eaters called herbivores. On their front legs or forelimbs grew very large claws. This made them look fierce along with their height of up to 18 feet tall and weight from 400 to 10,000 pounds. They used their claws to scrape leaves, twigs and seeds from trees and bushes. It’s estimated they could consume up to 300 pounds of plants per day.
Just off Reed Canal Road in South Daytona, Florida, a pond in the center of the park was dug up. It’s not unusual for boys to play in the dirt, but what made this one unique, in the world of archaeology, was that they found the bones of 13 giant ground sloths buried in the mud and muck. Since Florida is not a great archaeological destination for fossil hunters, the bones found under Reed Canal Park were buried in rich sediment of sand, seashells and mud. The combination created a peat-like environment which helped to preserve the bones and plants that lived during the last ice age.
Why is that such a big deal? Because at the time they died, 130,000 years ago, it was believed they did so in large sinkholes that opened up during the ice melting or they fell into tar pits. The pond in Reed Canal Park proved to be a natural die off site. Scientists continue to debate why the beasts of this period became extinct, but no conclusions have been made. Theories range from rapid climate changes to cave men.
The giant ground sloth that died in Daytona Beach is one of 23 different species that have been found around North America. This particular species is scientifically called Eremotherium laurilardi or the giant ground sloth is the largest ever to have roamed the earth. The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach houses the skeletal remains. When the bones of 13 different sloths were found, none was an intact skeleton, but scientists worked with the remains until they were able to assemble two complete skeletons. In the archaeology world, this is almost unheard of. A complete skeleton is a rare event for bones that are 130,000 years old. Scientists now come from around the world to study them hoping to get information about their habits, climate, and environment.
The skeleton shows us that the giant ground sloth had only 9 teeth that continued to grow for their entire lifetime. The teeth had to be large enough to grind branches and heavy plants, a job that would have been going on all day with the grinding of 300 pounds of food. Working with the teeth, the tongue of this animal is believed to be a large muscle that was about two feet long.
The bones found in Reed Canal Park did not have any indication of tool marks on them. This suggests they did not die at the hand of early man, or the nomads at the time who were called the Clovis people.
The weapons during their time were crude throwing spears made from rocks and tree branches. By throwing the spears, hunters could kill large animals for food if they had enough hunters and enough spears. The giant ground sloth moved slowly chewing on its plants. It would seem the sloth would have been easy target for the ice age man. But research suggests their fur was too thick for the hunter-gatherer’s weapons.
The giant ground sloth moved around continuously to find food. As they moved in a northern direction, the last ice age formed the Isthmus of Panama which allowed animals to cross between South America and North America. Bones from various species of the giant ground sloth have been found in California, Missouri, Kentucky, and as far north as Alaska. As a matter of fact, one species of the giant ground sloth was named for Thomas Jefferson in 1797 for the bones that were found in West Virginia.
The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach located at 352 South Nova Road is celebrating the 40 years since the first bones were brought to the surface in Reed Canal Park, which was then called the Daytona Bone Bed. The giant ground sloth has been on display to the public for 35 years. The museum has gone through great pains to preserve these unique skeletal remains from flooding and repairs. A new home has been dedicated in the West Wing to be the permanent display for the giant ground sloth. The new exhibit opened October 30, 2015. Admission to the museum is daily 10am-5pm and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Adult admission is $12.95, children $6.95 (up to age 17), seniors $10.95.
Daytona Beach is located in Volusia County. One advantage of living in the county is that if you have a state issued identification that has a Volusia county address, the museum has a special discount for its residents. On the first Tuesday of each month Volusia county residents get FREE admission.
Daytona’s Bone Bed is located in Reed Canal Park off Nova Road in South Daytona Beach, Florida. Over one million bones were recovered from the site that included 25 different species. Scientists have marked the spot and filled it in with water. The park is free to enter for anyone looking to find where the giant ground sloths lived, ate and died.
One more significant spot for the giant ground sloth is Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens in Port Orange, Florida. Since the sloth is Daytona’s oldest resident, showing honor does not belong solely to the museum. Just south of Daytona Beach is the city of Port Orange. Sugar Mill gardens celebrates prehistoric creatures that roamed Florida before man. One of those is the giant ground sloth. Carved out of a giant piece of wood, the replica stands within the trees to show its great height. Sugar Mill Gardens has its own history and is worth a stroll through old Florida industry and animals. Admission is free daily from 8am to 5pm.