By LISA GOODMAN

FLICKR/JSHAPPELL
PHOTO: Flickr.com/JSHAPPELL

Fourth graders at Landisville Intermediate Center in Pennsylvania made an important discovery earlier this year when they came across an 11,500 year-old hair from an extinct mastodon.

Mastodons were very large mammals with tusks that roamed the Earth as far back as 34 million years ago! Around 11,000 years ago, mastodons became extinct. Scientists are not certain why this happened, but they think it was due to a combination of being hunted by humans and environmental problems from climate change, as well as diseases.

The fourth graders who discovered the ancient hair were part of the Mastodon Matrix Project, led by the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI). The project allows volunteer scientists and students to help paleontologists by sorting through dirt samples that are thought to contain fossils (known as a matrix). The students examined the matrix with magnifying glasses, toothpicks and their fingers. Fourth grader Diamondli Lopez told Live Science about her experience, “The best part was trying to figure out what things were there because I really never saw those things in my life before.”

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Paleontologist (pey-lee-uhn-TOL-uh-jist): A person who studies the fossils of plants, animals and other forms of life that existed in prehistoric times.