While excavating for roads in a new housing-development for Eagle Creek Homes, crews from Bultema Contractors unearthed 11,000-year-old American mastodon bones in Bryon Center, Michigan, about 13 miles south of Grand Rapids.
"It's pretty neat, and something that won't happen again," recalls DJ Bultema, Owner of Bultema Contractors, of Dorr, Michigan. "It was neat to be a part of it and in my hometown."
At Eagle Creek's Railview Ridge, a 51-lot custom home subdivision, Bultema began work in July 2017 and was installing the water and sewer lines and preparing the site for new home construction when the team found the bones.
"There were three muck holes, and we had to pull the muck out and fill it with sand and clay to make a buildable site," Bultema explains. "One hole was 17 to 18 feet down." That is where the bones were located.
Finding the Bones
"My foreman said. "˜We found bones,'" Bultema recalls. "I did not think anything of it, because farmers often bury [dead] cattle and horses."
But after the foreman pulled these bones out, he told Bultema that the bones found were not from farm animals. It was August 31, 2017, just prior to the Labor Day weekend. Bultema knew he had to let the owners know of the find. The owners contacted paleontologists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and they determined the leg and hipbones came from a 30-year-old, female mastodon.
The university officials asked Bultema to continue digging in hopes of finding more bones. The company spent a half a day working to find more bones. Ribs and portions of the skull and other bones were found. Flat teeth and a lower jaw also were uncovered. They also found bone fragments at the fill site. All together about 24 pieces were discovered.
Eagle Creek Homes of Byron Center lent some of the bones to area schools, so students could see them and learn more about mastodons and then donated the bones to the University of Michigan. Once the university studies the bones, it plans to loan a couple to the Byron Center Historical Society.
While finding prehistoric mastodon bones was unusual for Bultema, finding Ice Age bones is surprisingly common in Michigan. In 2015, a farm site with dozens of intact mammoth bones were found about 10 feet below the ground in Chelsea, Michigan, and removed, while the farmer was installing a drainage system. This year, University of Michigan scientists conducted a second excavation and removed more bones. Evidence suggests that humans processed the carcass for food, more than 15,000 years ago. Prior to this find, it was estimated humans entered the area 13,000 years ago.
The mastodons ate vegetation near the glacier-made lakes in the area. They weighed in at up to 12 tons and could reach a height of 10 feet. Researchers from the University of Missouri reported in Quaternary Science Reviews that climate and environmental change caused their demise. Another theory is that the animals were hunted to extinction.
Choosing the Right Equipment
Throughout the project, Bultema has purchased and rented off-road trucks, excavators and dozers from Grand Equipment Co. of Hudsonville, Michigan. At the Eagle Creek Homes site, DJ Bultema used a Kobelco 500 Excavator, a John Deere 750 Dozer and two Bell off-road trucks, used to bring sand onto the job site.
"The Bell trucks have an onboard weight system, which helps you know how much dirt you have moved by tonnage," says John Oetman, a Salesman with Grand Equipment. "They also are quicker and more efficient than our competitors' trucks."
Grand Equipment sells, rents and services heavy equipment from a variety of manufacturers. The company is committed to quality and customer service. It offers a mobile equipment service in which field mechanics on the fully equipped service vehicles can diagnose, repair or perform scheduled maintenance at the contractors' job sites. Mechanics use computer-based analyzers to help identify a problem.
Bultema has purchased a variety of different pieces of heavy equipment from Grand Equipment.
"We do not stick with one brand," Bultema says. "With the off-roads, we own one and if we need more, we will rent. The Bell trucks have been great. They are quick, fast and powerful. Everything is push button."
Grand Equipment service technicians came to the job site and helped Bultema's crews learn the new push-button system and how to use the built-in scale, which Bultema has found tremendously helpful in knowing how much was hauled from the pit and across the site.
"It worked out well," Bultema says. "We had proof for the pay applications and engineers. They have been wonderful trucks and we have a great support system with Grand."
Bultema's grandfather started a construction business in 1942, and Bultema worked at it, giving 100 percent at a young age. He recalls going to work with his father on summer breaks from school, sitting on an excavator, watching him lay pipe.
"It was cool, and I've wanted to do this from when I was little," Bultema says. "You have to put 100 percent into it, and that's hard to find nowadays. The hardest part of the business is finding people who want to work and show up every day."
When his grandfather's company dissolved, Bultema began a new business eight years ago. Bultema Contracting now employs 10 to 12 people, who Bultema says have been with him through good times and hard times. The company works throughout southwest Michigan, performing sewer and road work and some earth moving. Bultema plans to stick with his current operation.
"We don't want to get too big," he says. "Ten to 15 guys is a good number. We don't need to be rich."
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