Indiana State Museum Digs

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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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 10, August 30, 2006


It’s been a greatly successful day! At about 1pm, the large back-hoe showed up to start digging. Back-hoes are excellent little resources for paleontologists and archaeologists and in this situation, we needed it badly to help us dig large trenches to control and guide water away from our main excavation area. But we were still fighting with our water pumps. We spent loads of time messing around with our pumps because they kept getting clogged. At the water got sucked up and the levels got lower and lower, the water got muckier and muckier and clogged up our intake hoses.

The other exciting event that happened today was that the tire from our van split in two—it was the damnedest thing?! Gerhard and I made the journey into town to get a new tire. By the time we came back to the site, the large back-hoe had arrived and was busy digging out our trenches. Then the good times really started… BONE!! As the hours ticked by, staff members stood at all possible vantage points around the back-hoe to watch the digging, for with each scoop lay the chance of uncovering bone, which must be seen quickly lest the back-hoe crush it during its next course. At about 5:30, a rib was uncovered .. then a great big part of a leg bone, … then more bone ... then more… By the time we stopped for the day, we had uncovered a nice little cluster of bone lying in very close proximity to each other. This made us very excited because bone lying close together could be a good indication that most of the skeleton is present and intact. Needless to say, we are very excited about the prospect of tomorrow...

Michele Greenan
Archaeology and Natural History Collections Manager
Indiana State Museum

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

DAY MASTODONT DIG

Oops – sorry about this, but my hotel’s internet service was interrupted so I am forced to publish the past three days at once! Here it goes…

Day 7, August 27, 2006
When we arrived at the site today, it was shrouded in fog… Luckily, the pump was still running which was a small miracle since we had figured that it would have cut out by about 4 am. It’s at a Mastodont site such as this to control water. Most of our skeletons have come from situations like this… where they are in ponds, marshes, and drainage ditches. Oddly enough, as we dig down, underground water wants to come up! So… we do battle with pumps and large water hoses. Today, we entered into such a battle and we may have won. As the water drains from the four foot thick muck, cracks spread across the surface of the peat, and the water slowly drains out. We salvaged a 55-gallon drum and buried it to create a sump we could use to pump the pond dry. As the water was being drained out, frogs leapt out of the pond and a small painted turtle fought to push his head above the thick muck. A dip of the shovel pulled him from the muck and he headed for the open water to the west where the pond is still open.

Most of the day was spent trying to balance pumps and the thick muck. A misstep sends the unwary volunteer waist deep in muck the consistency of chocolate pudding (but much less pleasant). Several of us wound up stepping off of plywood sheets we had carefully placed as floating steps and sunk waist deep into the muck.

Oh, and did I mention the muck! – take a bunch of grass, some sticks, algae, and perhaps a couple of dead animals. Let sit in water for 13,000 years and then let them bake in the hot sun of an Indiana summer. It smells just like you would expect and has the consistency of runny, lumpy oatmeal. Nasty. Nasty. Nasty!!! Which reminds me.. Today, I learned a little secret about the site which I promise to tell you all on the last day of the dig.

Today’s totals:
- Bone count… 5 = some foot bones, rib bones, and some vertebra bones
- Count of people falling in the muck face-first… 4 = (way too funny and always worth a laugh)
- Digging up a Mastodont…priceless.

Day 8, August 28, 2006
Today was spent doing battle with the horrid muck. We began by setting up our water pumps on both ends of the pond and then pumping the water, via fire-hoses, out into areas where there would be good drainage away from the pond. The problem with pumping out muck-water is that it clogs. To try and stop this from happening, we placed the large intake hose into a 55-gallon steel drum that had been found at the site. We buried the drum into the muck, and large holes were hammered in its sides to allow water to seep into the drum. This proved a successful tactic, but we still had to periodically unclog the banged-out holes.

By mid-afternoon, we had drained the pond enough to allow Rex to get in and start bucketing out muck from the floor. With shovels in hand, the team began digging out working terraces and large drainage trenches. We had created an interesting situation where the pond was cut into two halves, separated from each other via “muck levees” that we had created. These muck heaps had large trenches dug into them which allowed us to control the amount and direction of water coming into the pond. By the end of the afternoon, we were all working in what had been the center of the pond; dry in places, but with at least 4 feet of muck in its deeper areas. In our own little world of muck, our engineering feats would have made the Romans proud; or, at least we are as insane as some of their rulers.

All-in-all, we felt fairly good about our work. It had been raining pretty hard and the day was generally cool and wet, but we still managed to work up a good sweat. It is hoped that our work today will allow us to begin really digging out some bone tomorrow.

Today's totals
- Bone Count= 0
- Count of people falling in the muck face first = 0 (but there were at least 3 instances where people got totally stuck in the mud and couldn’t get their boots out)
- An ability to see a mud hill as high achievement = Priceless

Day 9, August 29. 2006
DISASTER!! Rex was so excited to start gridding out the area for digging that he left the hotel before 7am. When he turned the corner to get a full view of the site, he found that the pond was back. He jumped into the water to try and rescue the pump, which was completely submerged in the pond (the author believes he probably paused to cry like a little girl). By the time the rest of the team made it to the site, Rex and John Weddel had already worked like mad-men getting the pumps back in working order.

By about 11 a.m., we decided to leave a few people at the site to man the pumps. Our fearless leader, Ron Richards and his fearless sidekick Gerhard took the first shift and the rest of the crew headed back to the hotel for some needed relaxation. John Weddel also remained behind with Ron and Gerhard. At 5:30 p.m. everyone left the site, but by 8 p.m., Rex and Michele had returned to check the pumps. Ron retuned at 1 a.m. to check the pumps.

Today's totals
- Bone Count= 0
- Count of people falling into the muck face first = 0
- Trying to battle Mother Nature with a tin cup = Priceless.

Michele Greenan
Archaeology and Natural History Collections Manager
Indiana State Museum

Saturday, August 26, 2006

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 6, August 26, 2006


Yep, it turned out the way it looked. The backhoe first team, along with Ron and Rex, were on site by 7:00 a.m. and by 9:00 it was obvious that whatever happened to our elephant in large part happened somewhere else. We got most of the ribs and a few odds & ends, but most of our girl ended up somewhere else. The local paper, bless their heart, had encouraged people to show up to volunteer and we had about 100 eager volunteers, including about 2-dozen Cub Scouts, hanging around with not much to do. Fortunately, when there’s not much going on, kids will invent their own entertainment. We put a batch in a back-pile and they amused themselves exploring for “dinosaur bones.” As expected, nobody hit anything, but that didn’t seem to matter. It’s likely to be a Saturday morning most of them will remember for a very long time, mastodont or no mastodont.

We spent about two hours or so packing our gear, ate an early lunch, looked around the site a bit, said our goodbyes – made sure the Plymouth folks promised to visit us at ISM – and hit the road. This is a 2-fer. By 12:30 we were standing in a steady rain, examining a brand new (to us) swamp near Winamac. There had previously been a femur and a few other hopeful signs pulled from the ground and it looked like a reasonable place to start playing in the mud. After a minimal set-up and a couple of hours digging in the back-pile left by the dredging of a new pond, we’d already turned up a new foot bone and part of a rib. Looks like a good place to set up shop for awhile.

Don’t know that I have anything particularly profound to say to wrap things up. Michelle will take this from me starting with the Sunday post. I’ll be in and out of the site over the next week or so. I’ve got a wife and three kids I miss. Tomorrow I’m sleeping in my own bed. I have a real job, too. I’ve got an exhibit to put the finishing touches to, some stuff to write, some paperwork I’m responsible for, probably about a thousand e-mails or so to deal with – three meetings on Monday, if I remember. Back to real life.

I understand we’re looking at 5 days at Pipe Creek next year – 5 million year old rhinos! Maybe two weeks at Megenity. Expect I’ll drop by both. They’ll want someone to talk about what’s goin’ on and I can usually come up with a few words. See ya ‘round.

R. Dale Ogden
Chief Curator of Cultural History
Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites

Friday, August 25, 2006

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 5, August 25, 2006


My first day to post and it looks like we’re pretty much done with the site. We removed eight more ribs from the ground before we left yesterday, but nothing else. Brought the backhoe in this morning to explore what we thought was a hopeful perimeter area, but no luck. Nothing in the few pedestals we took down or a few other sample shoveling squares either. We’re bringing the backhoe in again tomorrow for one final aggressive scouring, but unless something really surprising turns up, it looks like we’re left with a representative of Peggy’s new species of legless, invertebrate mastodon.

Actually, a ribs-only find isn’t all that bad. This is my 8th mastodon expedition and the first in which we turned up just ribs (we did get a molar, both tusks and a few stray odds & ends). Every dig has its own surprises. At Gumz Farm we got feet & knee caps, but no legs. At Shafer, we got pollen & seeds (that was fun). At Bothwell, we ended up with, what, seven young females? Ron says that every dig provides another piece of the puzzle – another clue. Maybe some future paleontologist will put them all together to explain how the world worked 12,000 years ago. Maybe she’ll cite the data we uncovered and we’ll be famous in absentia. Would have been fun to find 80% here, rather than 20%, though. I like being famous now. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Mostly, we’re a bit disappointed for the good folks of Marshall County. When I was a high school wrestler 20 miles down the road in Warsaw, the Plymouth Pilgrims were our mortal enemies. All these years later, it was still a little surprising to discover that some of their old athletes (and their sons & daughters) can, in fact, see their reflection in the mirror. We’d have liked to have given them all a little more of an opportunity to show off for their friends and family.

Ron says it’s about the SCIENCE, but he’d be the first to admit that it’s not ALL about the science. Some of it’s about hanging out with people who aren’t afraid to get mud under their fingernails and a little swamp water in their shorts. And, a lot of it’s about the new friends we have the privilege of meeting. Maybe it’s Hoosiers, or maybe it’s Midwesterners, or maybe it’s even Americans, but I think it’s just people. No matter where we dig; Crawford County, Grant County, LaPorte, Hebron, Plymouth, wherever, we’re always met with friendship and enthusiasm from the people who live there.

Two busloads of schoolkids showed up today and even though we didn’t have much to show ‘em they generally seemed excited to be there and their teachers were endlessly grateful for us “allowing” them to watch. Peggy mentioned the homemade peach cobbler and hot coffee after yesterday’s rain. Today we were offered copies of various photos people had taken and everyone always wants to know how we’re getting along and if we’re eating well and eating enough.

From dig-to-dig we never talk about Iraq, or stem cell research, or the relative strength of this religion or that. We do swap stories and (usually lame) jokes, poke fun at one another and get let in on the latest gossip. We know who’s having trouble with her new bi-focals, what 93-year-old doesn’t like the local football coach, which ol’ boys have stand-up reputations and which not so much. Science aside, we wish we had more to show them. We like them as much as they seem to like us.

I’m worn out. More tomorrow.

R. Dale Ogden
Chief Curator of Cultural History
Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 4, August 24, 2006

Ugh. Very wet all morning. And Ron doesn’t believe in sitting still-- bad for morale and all. So, we shoveled a terrace that we pretty much knew was free of bone. We couldn’t do detailed work on the bones that we’ve unearthed because the rain would have weakened the active site (we had everything important covered with tarps).

Even though there was much minor complaining about the futility of pointless work, it was actually a good idea to shovel in this area. Ron had wanted to confirm that we could abandon this area, and we sure can now. We’re all the way down through the peat, through the bit of clay, and through much of the brown sand, with no bone in sight. And, the shoveling kept us warm. I learned that not only does volunteer John Weddell actively steam when working in a 50 degree cave (see previous posts for Megenity Cave Dig); he also steams when shoveling in the rain.

We stopped late in the morning, and Mr. and Mrs. Day, senior stopped by with hot coffee and fresh peach cobbler. Not only are they donating a treasure to the State of Indiana, but they feed us, too. A reporter from earlier in the week also stopped by, hoping to see us remove some bone from the ground. In addition to several newspaper articles and TV news stories, Ron also did an interview on a local radio morning show. All of this publicity makes a difference, too. People are stopping by to watch, and we love talking to them. However, we do have to be watchful. The Day’s keep an eye on the site at night to discourage unchaperoned viewing.

The rain stopped after lunch, and we were able to start mapping in the bones and removing them so that I could bring them back to the museum. We had a big enough crew that others of us also shoveled some more in the active grids, and we found more ribs. I thought I found a rib, and everybody was fooled until Ron starting poking at it. Just a stick. As of today, this is still a legless and invertebrate mastodont. That’s usually our luck with mastodonts, though. Somewhere, someone is hiding a cache of mastodont legs, and they’re not giving ‘em up.

Today’s my last day here. I leave at mid-afternoon, and hope to see my kids before bed. Dale will be posting for a few days, and after that, we’ll see.

Peggy Fisherkeller
Curator of Geology
Indiana State Museum

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 3, August 23, 2006


Oh boy, was I tired and sore today! At first at least. I loosened up as the morning went on. Today I began digging and ended screening. The digging of screen-worthy material began in earnest today. Before, we were able to throw away much of the material that we were shoveling. Now, though, we’ve started to excavate the bone units, and so are screening the dirt. So, all of a sudden, the buckets started coming fast and furious, and I moved onto screening. We found lots of spruce cones, and a small beaver tooth and perhaps jaw.

But, the crème de la crème was found while the guys dug. Finally, the skull was uncovered, but was unfortunately pretty disintegrated. But still, a rotten skull is better than no skull. A few nice-sized ribs were also uncovered.

We’ve been hosting many visitors at the site. In addition to the Day family members that have been showing up, high and middle school children have been taking days off of school, or showing up shortly after school. Today, volunteer Ed screened with one, and worked hard to answer questions. It is hard for some of us—I would say that several dig members are not so children-oriented. But, we try, because they love it! Nothing captures a kid’s imagination more than a paleontology dig. Even my three-year-old is starting to get interested.

The dragonflies here are the best and most varied I’ve ever seen. We’ve got a green and blue variety keeping us company, and a species with striped wings. The insects here are, in fact, gorgeous. I watched them quite a bit today, because screening doesn’t have to keep all a body’s attention all the time.

I’m back to mapping. We’ll start mapping the bones into the grid using the total station, which provides geographic and elevation locations relative to an artificial point. This is a so mewhat long and tedious process, with much writing and pausing.

So tomorrow, more sun, more lovely bugs, and another lovely day.

Peggy Fisherkeller
Curator of Geology
Indiana State Museum

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 2, August 22, 2006


It could be whole lot worse. At about 2:30, after many hours of shoveling for Dale, and several on and off for me, we looked at each other and thought about what we might be doing otherwise. I think that Dale’s pretty much always in meetings, and I’d probably be typing something at my desk.

So, today, we’re busy cleaning up sterile sediment. At least we’re hoping it’s sterile. We prefer a nice tightly clustered site. Ron’s general rule is to dig out 2 meters from the last bone on an edge, so we’re doing it, and then some. I would say that we’re re-delineating. We can do large chunks of dirt though, instead of delicate digging around bone, which takes quite a bit more time.

I actually find this sort of digging very satisfying. On a very basic level, I am changing the earth, roughing it out to my specifications. But all the while, I'm also watching and feeling the sediment change, in color and texture. And so my thinking during shoveling goes something like this: “Mmm, I bought cherries for lunch. Mmm, cherries. Oh, sediment’s changing—this sand has fewer stones than the upper units. Mmm, cherries.”

More happened than just bulk digging today, though. We mapped the grid of the site in today, and the screens were going for part of the day. The sides of our lower pit are gradually undercutting and calving as groundwater trickles through freshly-made walls. Diggers uncovered a small tusk yesterday along the edge of the lower pit, and so today, fearing the wall would slump, Rex pulled it up. Tusks especially are very delicate and often fall apart after they’re removed from the ground. In fact, this tusk came up on a backboard, like a spinal injury victim. But all was well, and it came out intact.

I promised to write a little about the glacial geology of northern Indiana. The northern 2/3s of Indiana was covered at one time or another by continental glaciers. Thus, northern Indiana is flat, a favorite of those who revel in subtlety. As the glaciers were receding - out of Indiana by about 14,000 years ago - they left a changed landscape. Peat bogs were abundant, and it just so happens that most northern Indiana mastodonts exposed turn up within or below peat.

We’re looking at more beautiful weather tomorrow. The Day’s have friends and family watching and helping us, and they provide donuts, too. It could be a whole lot worse.

Peggy Fisherkeller
Curator of Geology
Indiana State Museum

DAY MASTODONT DIG
Day 1, August 21, 2006


What a great start to a dig! We’ve found bone, and have delineated our digging boundaries—we think.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Day’s were digging a pond in a field in northern Indiana, near Plymouth, and the backhoe bucket encountered bone. After calling around, they found their way to Ron Richards, here at the Indiana State Museum. So, here we are digging near Plymouth, two weeks away from the local Blueberry Festival (hotels were awfully tight).

This happens to be one of several mastodonts that people have run into in this general vicinity. The sites all have been dating to around 12,000.

Mastodont digs tend to be different, more traditional, than the peccary dig that we have earlier in the summer. Here we have a wide open space, under the sun, along a tree line, with many visitors. In fact, where the Megenity dig can be considered secretive, the mastodont digs are very very public. We pulled into the site around noon today, and six cars were parked there, with half of them belonging to media crews. After interviews, and primary digging, we began to find bone. Previously, there were about 12 ribs and some other fragments, scavenged from the spoil pile dumped by the back hoe. Now we have some broken tusk, more ribs, and a few other fragments.

The big question is ”How do you know where to dig?” The easy answere is that we start poking around where the original bone was found. We are fortunate in having a backhoe at the site. The backhoe can remove a lot of material really quickly. While the very skilled operator was scraping off muck and peat, Rex and John dug around, looking for stray bone, and the bone-bearing layer. The few that we found in situ were at the top of the sand layer, below the peat and clay. Though Ron screened a few buckets of the overlying peat, we believe that we can dig just in the sand unit and down. So, the backhoe operator scraped off the peat and clay, and we manually scraped it off in areas around bone, or where the backhoe couldn’t reach.

We had a fall, which was almost a bad fall, but turned into more of prat fall. Ron Richards was trying a controlled slide down a bank, but ended up in a very uncontrolled slide into the watery pit. Because he was able to save himself before bodily damage occurred, we were able to have a good laugh. While its funny as long as no one gets hurt, we’re fairly conscience of potential injuries.

What else? I got to help dig today, and I quickly learned that I’m lacking in certain arm muscles. I’m writing this the next morning, and I’m a tad bit sore.

Okay, must be off. More tomorrow about the geology of these many mastodont sites in northern Indiana.

Peggy Fisherkeller
Curator of Geology
Indiana State Museum