December 25, 1801 (a Friday)

Peale's painting of 1801 excavation of mastodon.

Peale’s painting of 1801 excavation of mastodon.

On this date, the first complete skeleton of a mastodon found in the United States, mounted in the “Mammoth Room” of Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was opened for exhibition to the public. It was the museum’s centerpiece and became an overnight success.

The massive bones had been discovered in the Hudson River Valley of New York state in the spring of that year, described only as Incognitum (“unknown”). They were acquired by Charles Willson Peale who traveled there to supervise their excavation. The site was depicted in a well-known painting by Peale, whose career included working as a portrait artist.

Peale’s 1801 excavation on the Hudson Valley farm drew international attention.  Convinced that “the movements of nature are in never ending circles,” Thomas Jefferson expected Lewis and Clark to find mastodons and other extinct animals still living in the American west.  Periodically, from then until now, additional complete skeletons of mastodons have been unearthed in the state of New York.

References:

  • Charles Coleman Sellers, Mr. Peale’s Museum (W.W. Norton & Co., 1980)
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