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Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

Located in White River State Park in the heart of Indianapolis, the Indiana State Museum is a wonderful place to find everything you never expected. Whether you are a visitor to the state or a life-long Hoosier, this world-class institution will allow you to explore Indiana’s past, present and future through artistic, cultural and scientific exhibits. Starting with the birth of earth and tracing Hoosier history into the 21st century, the museum offers an eclectic and ever-changing adventure. Constructed of all Indiana materials including limestone, sandstone, steel, brick and glass, the museum’s exhibit space covers 72,000 square feet, and the organization maintains a collection of more than 400,000 artifacts. From the soaring Great Hall showcasing Robert Indiana’s INDIANA obelisk to 92 pieces of sculpture representing the 92 Indiana counties, even the building itself is a work of art. The museum is the crossroads of everything interesting, educational and unique about the state. The museum's collection began in 1862. The new building opened in 2002.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Day 1, July 17, 2006

Just do. Yoda-like, that was said today, as we were sweating, and dragging and hauling gear from the vehicle. That’s about all that a person can do with a delivery truck full of sharp and pointy and heavy tools that need to get down a slick, rocky hill (the gear needs to get down, not the delivery truck). This is our first day, the unloading and setting-up day, of our Megenity Cave Dig. Though we will be stinky, and sore, and tired, and sometimes bored by monotony, depending on our job, I think that I can speak for all of us here, volunteer and staff alike, in saying that we look forward to much of the two weeks down in southern Indiana.

I do have to reiterate that everybody was fairly stinky by the end of the day. Some were stinkier than others.

One of the things that strikes me most about the set-up for this dig, in its twentieth year, is the well-honed nature of the gear that comes along. I’m a relative newcomer to this dig—this is my fourth time here, over my six years at the museum—and I’m continually impressed with the custom-built tools, just for this cave. There are wooden ladders that fit exactly in cave passages, screening stations whose posts fit exactly in holes from last year, and trees that are always used to string up tarps and zip lines. New eyes looking in get the feeling that each plank and each set of hose attachments have been carefully tested, with the duds getting tossed in the trash, and the winners brought along for the next year.

After we got all the gear down the hill, we began setting up the screening station. A massive tarp was strung up between trees, and a little stream down below the hill was dammed. Using several hoses and barrels, an artificial pond was created, from which we pump water back up the hill to the screening station. The tarp protects the screeners, mostly from rain and falling ticks, because the trees are thick enough that the sun is not such a problem. The water we use to rinse the cave mud through screens, and the bones of animals are bagged up and brought home.

We even encountered wildlife in the woods today. Several ticks were found, and four tiny toads were making a home in a log that we had to drag from the road in the woods, to make way for the two porta-potties.

The other thing that amazes me about this dig is that is represents a really pure form of scientific inquiry. This is no wimpy lab science, but hard, backbreaking labor done on behalf of obligation and intense curiosity. And its not just a few intellectuals who’ve been working on this project, but dozens and dozens of museum staff and volunteers with diverse backgrounds. We’ve had homemakers, children, a prison warden, carpenters and historians along. Everyone who comes is at least marginally interested in learning about this unique facet of Indiana.

So anyway, that’s day one. We got done fairly early today and after showers at the hotel, went on to a nice dinner at a local German restaurant. We’ve left the internal cave set-up for tomorrow. That’ll take about half the day, and then the dirt will start moving and we can begin our treasure hunt. I’ll keep you posted!

Peggy Fisherkeller
Curator of Geology
Indiana State Museum