It has been 14 years since Dan Buesching found huge bones in the mucky soil of his Allen County peat farm, but Fred the Mastodon has finally come to rest at the entrance to the Level 1 Nina Mason Pulliam Gallery of the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, where he was unveiled in a ceremony Jan. 25.
This fall, the mastodon will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit, “Indiana’s Ice Age Giants: The Mystery of Mammoths and Mastodons.”
There are many unusual things about this mastodon; for one, it is a real-bone mount, not a cast of bones, which you often find in museums. The skeleton is 80 percent real bone, which is also very rare to find that many bones of one mammal; usually 50 percent would be considered a good find. It is also rare for a museum to take on the actual mounting of such a large creature. More information on the mounting process can be found on the museum blog at indianastatemuseum.wordpress.com.
Fred is Indiana State Museum’s most complete skeleton of a mastodon and one of the most complete skeletons in the Midwest. Buesching discovered a 9-foot tusk in 1998, when he was digging peat moss on his family’s farm — Buesching Peat Moss & Mulch — near Fort Wayne.
Buesching reported the find to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. Faculty, students and volunteers excavated the skeleton, which was entombed in soil muck that was once a prehistoric lake.
The skeleton found its permanent home at the Indiana State Museum in 2006. The mastodon is named after Fred Buesching, Dan Buesching’s grandfather and founder of the family business.
Quick facts on Fred
• About 80 percent of the full skeleton was recovered in Fort Wayne.
• Fred weighed about 3 tons.
• The skull is about 250 pounds.
• The lower jaw weighs about 80 pounds.
• Each tusk weighs 100 pounds.
• Mounted, Fred is about 9 feet tall.
• Bone analysis through radiocarbon dating shows that Fred is more than 13,000 years old.
Exhibiting the bones
In order to present the remains, the mastodon is mounted on a metal frame customized and crafted by the museum’s mountmaker and sculptor Mike Smith.
Often confused with the woolly mammoth, mastodons are an older species. Scientists think they originated in Africa 35 million years ago and entered North America about 15 million years ago. Both animals were prevalent during the Ice Age in Indiana. Though the mammoth was taller, the mastodon was a bulkier animal.
Mastodons in Indiana
The Indiana State Museum has mastodon and mammoth remains from more than 28 localities around Indiana, more sites than any other museum in the Midwest.
“What makes Fred so significant is that more than 80 percent of the skeleton has been discovered, and the bones — even the intricate feet bones — were largely intact,” said Ronald Richards, paleontology curator at the Indiana State Museum.
Indiana also has a long history of exporting mastodon bones, which can be seen in museums throughout the country.
The Indiana State Museum is located in White River State Park in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Visit www.indianamuseum.org. For more details on the exhibit corporate sponsor Irving Materials Inc., visit www.irmat.com.