National Fossil Day   Explore Nature
National Park Service
US Department of the Interior

Mammoth Partner Highlight

Field workers carefully recover a large mammoth bone from the dig site in San Jose (© 2005 University of California Museum of Paleontology / photo by Mark Goodwin). click enlarge...

Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose (California)

In the summer of 2005 Roger Castillo, a local resident of San Jose California was walking along the Guadalupe River in downtown San Jose when his dog, Jenna, noticed something sticking out of the riverbed. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was something unusual so he called a geologist from San Jose State University (SJSU) and a paleontologist from the University of California, Museum of Paleontology (UCMP). The two went to check out what Roger had found and confirmed that it was a unique find. Roger had discovered a partial skull of a young Columbian mammoth. With the help of graduate students from the UCMP and SJSU, they excavated the partial skull which included two tusks, four molars, palate, mandible and lower braincase. During the process, they also uncovered a femur, a partial pelvis, several toe bones and miscellaneous unidentifiable bone pieces. The fossils were brought back to the UCMP where they were prepared by staff and volunteers. Although there have been several other mammoth finds in the area, this one was unusual because it was a young mammoth and almost the entire skull was preserved. Usually in this area, paleontologists find only single teeth or fragmented bones of adult mammoths.

Residents of San Jose were intrigued by the discovery, and the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose (CDM) quickly recognized the educational opportunity. Over the next six years, CDM worked with the UCMP to fund and build a unique exhibition that houses the mammoth fossils. CDM is located only 5 miles from where the mammoth (later named Lupé) was found. The exhibition focuses on evidence-based learning for younger children (4-7 years old) to encourage scientific thinking. Children and their parents can see the mammoth fossils on display as well as enjoy various exhibits on geology and paleontology. Children practice their excavation skills in digs pits that contain replicas of the actual fossils found. They can also measure the size of their own femur and compare it to Lupé's femur, learn about mammoth dung, and play in a full-size diorama with Pleistocene mammals. The highlight of the exhibition is a full-scale, complete replica of Lupé.

Children are encouraged to use evidence fromthe fossils to learn and answer questions they may have. For example, children can look at Lupé's teeth to determine how old he/she was. Lupé's skull contains two worn first molars and two erupting second molars indicating that Lupé was a "teenager" at time of death. Children can also examine Lupé's femur which has unfused epiphyses indicating that Lupé was young when fossilized. Several other exhibits inspire children and their parents to find out more about mammoths and other Pleistocene mammals. A companion website (, developed by the UCMP, contains in-depth information for families to reference once they return home.

The CDM partners with Maureen Callanan, a professor in the Department of Psychology at UC Santa Cruz, who studies cognitive and language development in children. She is studying how families interact with the exhibits and fossils to better understand how children learn and develop scientific thinking skills. Her findings have been and will be incorporated into exhibit designs to encourage evidence based learning.

This exhibition is a product of a unique relationship between the CDM, UCMP, UC Santa Cruz and SJSU. It also would not have been possible without the help of the San Jose Water District, on whose land Lupé was found. Come see Lupé and learn more about mammoths at the Children's Discovery Museum.

Mammoth partner feature articles:

Big Bone Lick State Park | Channel Islands NP, Pygmy Mammoth | Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose | Denver Museum of Nature & Science Snowmastodon Project | Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County | Kenosha Public Museums | The Mammoth Site at Hot Springs | Paleontological Research Institution, Museum of the Earth | The Tate Geological Museum at Casper College | Tule Springs Ice Age Park | Waco Mammoth Site

Last updated: April 14, 2012