Mastodons and mammoths had been uncovered for hundreds of years before being described here for young readers of Robert Merry’s Museum. This isn’t the first description of a mammoth or mastodon published for American children: in 1802, Nathaniel Dwight had included a bit about mammoths in his A Short But Comprehensive System of the Geography of the World, hinting that it might still lurk in the woods; in 1813, Ezra Sampson had included all that was then known about the possibly carnivorous Siberian mammoth in a paragraph in Youth’s Companion; or An Historical Dictionary; in 1839, readers of Youth’s Cabinet had received a jumbled impression of how large one could be.

Now, though, readers could see a complete skeleton of a mammoth. It was one of the first illustrations of fossil remains presented for children in early America. In a sense, this article is an extension of Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, which Goodrich had published a year earlier; that book probably introduced illustrations of dinosaurs to American children but doesn’t mention mammoths.

This wasn’t the first time a picture of a skeleton had shown up in a work for children: Samuel Griswold Goodrich pictured Charles Willson Peale’s mastodon skeleton on display in 1831 in The Child’s First Book of History (and several times after that).

Despite its very short tusks, this illustration is an improvement on the one of Peale’s tuskless mastodon, which is not only tuskless, but missing the top of its head. And Goodrich got mileage out of this illustration, too, including it in his Wonders of Geology in 1845. Certainly he wasn’t yet finished with fossils: “The Mammoth” was followed two two months later by a piece showing young readers what may be the first picture of an iguanodon in an American work for children.
“The Mammoth” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1841; p. 152)
skeleton of a mammoth

In several of the United states persons have frequently found the bones of a huge animal, called the Mammoth, or Mastodon. One skeleton, nearly complete, has been found, and set up in Peale’s Museum, in Philadelphia.

There is no such creature to be found now, on the earth, as a Mastodon—nor has there been, since the memory of man. It seems that it must have resembled an Elephant, but was twice as large.

In Siberia, a few years ago, a fisherman discovered the body of a Mastodon, imbedded in the ice: the skin was nearly entire, and it was covered with woolly hair. After about two years, this body thawed out, and fell to the ground from the elevated place in which it was first discovered. The flesh, as well as skin, gradually disappeared, but the bones were secured, and being taken to St. Petersburgh, in Russia, were set up in a museum, where they are still to be seen.

The remains of many other animals, now extinct, are found in different countries, as well as traces of vegetables, such as are not met with now on the face of the earth. This is a very interesting subject, and I propose hereafter to say more about it.

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