Gift idea: buy a share in a prehistoric mastodon – no kidding!

HARRISBURG, Pa. – You’ve heard of owning a real estate timeshare or even a share in a racehorse, but those with a penchant for the offbeat might want to consider this offbeat holiday gift idea: sponsorship of one of 263 bones comprising a 12,000-year-old mastodon skeleton recently unveiled at the Pennsylvania State Museum.

The nonprofit Friends of the State Museum in Harrisburg is promoting its Buy-A-Bone campaign online at The novel promotion is part of a 12-month effort to raise funds to pay for the reconstruction of Marshalls Creek Mastodon, which was first unearthed in 1968 in Monroe County, Pa., during the dredging of a peat bog. All sponsorships are tax deductible.

Donors may purchase a bone for as little as $25 or as much as $25,000 for the animal’s skull. All donors will receive a certificate commemorating their purchase as well as an invitation to a special preview of the mastodon to be held in January, 2010. In addition, all of the “owners” will be named on a plaque that will hang in the new exhibit hall.

“We know that nobody in the Central Pennsylvania region has ever received a gift like this before. This mastodon is a one-of-a-kind treasure and we want to share this treasure with the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the museum every year,” said Ruth Granfors, Friends’ president. “You’re literally buying a piece of the past for future generations. It’s a unique gift.”

The Friends’ goal is to raise $250,000 to help defray the extraordinary costs of reconstructing the mastodon and building the new Paleontology Gallery where the mastodon will live. The new gallery on the museum’s top floor will be comprised of four areas and a series of dioramas with interactive tools for visitors.

The mastodon was reconstructed by Pittsburgh-based Phil Fraley Productions, one of the leading firms in the world for such work. The mastodon will be formally unveiled in January; the new gallery will be completed and opened to the public this month.

“This really is the most exciting project we’ve undertaken at the museum in 30 years,” said museum director John Leighow. “We’ve got the best specimen of this type of animal anywhere on the East Coast, with the best firm in the world managing the reconstruction. And we have one of the nation’s leading paleontologists on staff here with Dr. Robert Sullivan. All of the ingredients are here for a world-class exhibit.”

The Marshalls Creek Mastodon is the most complete skeleton of its kind ever discovered in Pennsylvania. Growing to nearly 20 feet long (from rear to tip of tusks) and 9 feet high, the creature weighed 4 to 5 tons.

Buy-A-Bone is just one facet of The Friends’ year-long effort to support the new exhibit. The group is seeking corporate partners interested in sponsoring the four areas and special features in the new gallery space, as well as a series of family-oriented events to be held over the coming year.

The Friends of the State Museum is a nonprofit volunteer organization devoted to supporting the exhibits, collections, and programs of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth’s official history museum located in the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg. The Friends are collaborating with the Pennsylvania Heritage Society to conduct the Mastodon Buy-A-Bone campaign. The Heritage Society is another nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining the preservation work of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the state’s official history organization.

To sponsor a bone with a tax-deductible donation, log on to If purchasing as a Christmas gift, please order by Dec. 11 to ensure the signed certificate and invitation to the museum’s Jan. 23 Mastodon Preview Party is received before Dec. 25.

Editor’s note: To view images of the dredging of the peat bog that led to the discovery of the mastodon, as well as a series of fascinating images of the restoration project that followed, visit

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