Hot Science: The Science of Extinction

The elephant in the room is that one day, if we aren’t careful, the elephant will never be in the room again. Extinction is forever – at least for now. A statuesque and imagination-provoking example of this is the mastodon story presented in the new Hot Science exhibit at the Illinois State Museum. Although the ultimate reason for the demise of these animals has been debated for decades, answers to extinction questions are no longer trivial or academic given the rapid pace of climate change and our great concern for threatened and endangered species. What clues are mastodon and mammoth remains giving us about their ultimate downfall? What lessons can we unlock from their stories?

Be taken on a journey through the lives of Midwestern elephants – mastodons, and mammoths – during the Ice Age. Mastodons were the great Ice Age survivors, outliving all of the ancient elephants and maybe even mammoths! Discover the bones that led to the creation of the mounted mastodon skeleton in the Changes exhibition. They are from the largest mastodon on record to date – a male standing 10 feet at the shoulder – uncovered at Boney Spring in Benton County, MO in 1971. Investigate the work of the Illinois State Museum’s Midwestern Mammoth and Mastodon project (M-cubed), a four year project funded by the National Science Foundation to study the extinction of these species in the Midwest. Follow the clues left behind by these great animals, and come to your own conclusions about their fate. Was it disease? Human hunting? Climate change and habitat loss? … Or was it the impact of a comet? You decide what lessons we have learned, and let us know with your vote.

Illinois State Museum Hot Science Gallery.
  • Illinois State Museum Hot Science Gallery.
  • Illinois State Museum Hot Science Gallery.
  • Illinois State Museum Hot Science Gallery.
  • Illinois State Museum Hot Science Gallery.
  • Illinois State Museum Hot Science Gallery.
Visitor Information
502 South Spring Street
Springfield
(217) 782-7386

Museum: Mon-Sat: 9-4:30, Sun: 12-4:30
Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum: Mon-Sat: 10-4, Sun: 1-4:30
All Facilities Closed: New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.