Surface-Evans speaks to home schoolers

IPFW alum relives Mastodon excavation for area home schoolers

Buesching, while spending a September Sunday afternoon in 1998 excavating peat moss on the grounds of his family owned business, Buesching’s Peat Moss, north of Cook Road on Lamlie Road, noticed something out of the ordinary during his dig.

On that day, he pulled a mastodon skull from the ground.

Enter, Surface-Evans, then a junior Anthropology student at IPFW, and a group of her classmates, who were allowed to excavate all over the Buesching’s property, looking for as much as they could find.  

The excavation, which was led by Univeristy of Michigan Professor Dr. Daniel Fisher, found around 80 percent of the mastodon’s remains.  Those remains were donated by the Buesching’s  to the Indiana State Museum, where it is on display. A casting can be seen at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor and at Science Central right here in Fort Wayne. The Bueschings also have castings of the skull and a few other bones in their main office.

A group of over 100 area home-schooled students were on the grounds Friday afternoon, as was Surface-Evans, who took the group back to the site of the original find 12 years ago.

“It was a really wonderful process excavating those two years.  The Buesching family was very gracious and was really supportive of us being out here.  It was a fabulous experience as an undergraduate,” Surface-Evans recalled. “The emotion was excitement and definite interest.  My own research was on hunter-gatherers and I knew this was going to be very informative about what people were doing and how they were living back then.” 

“(Speaking to the kids) means a lot to me.  I was really excited coming out here, reliving the excitement of coming out for the excavation all those years ago.  All of us who volunteered knew that this was a real significant site and something special.  A find like this doesn’t happen everyday.  It’s rare.”

The students are from areas of Allen and Whitley counties in Indiana and some even came from Ohio.  The group consisted of students ranging from pre-school through early high school, with one junior.

Their field trip began at Science Central to view the casting there, before listening to Surface-Evans speak of the lands origins back in the Ice Age, the types of animals that inhabited the area, and how a Mastodon could be preserved so well over so many years.  

“Each field trip is unique,” said trip advisor Julie Scheele, who lives near the Buesching’s business. “This was about a jewel, a mastodon found here in our community, that is nearly complete, that is casted at Science Central.  Plus, we got to come here and learn about it on the spot where it was dug up.”

“I learned more from (Dr. Surface-Evans) today than I did from all the other things I have read, because she was here and knows Dr. Dan Fisher from the University of Michigan. For the kids, it was about learning what it takes to conduct an archeological dig and what it takes to be an archeologist.”

Much of the surrounding area was excavated following the two-year dig starting in 1998, and Dr. Surface-Evans doesn’t suspect there are any other skeletal remains like the mastodon in the surrounding area.

“If there is, it is just sitting there waiting for us to find it I guess,” she said.

The students also got the opportunity to play the role of a hunter and throw replica spears into the dirt mounds, hold dug up arrowheads in their hands, and check out Science Central’s other offerings, in addition to the mastodon castings.  The Buesching’s provided cookies and water before they departed.

“I had dug part of it out, turned my machine to dump my bucket and noticed something looked a little out of the ordinary,” Buesching recalled. “I got out and looked and had the skull on the bank and moved it, and had the teeth sticking out.  We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it wasn’t a modern day cow or horse.”

“By the end of the day we had the whole neighborhood and family over, and we had pretty much determined what it was.”

“That was our focus, that we wanted it to stay in town.  It’s neat that it’s at Science Central. It’s neat to see the kids come out and get a big smile on their face.  It makes it all worth while.” 

The casting is missing a leg and a knee cap, on opposite sides of the body, as well as its tail.

The original find has been carbon-dated back 11,292 years, according to Dan’s mother Jann Buesching.  Surface-Evans said that rings on the tusks found indicated that the male mastodon was 35-years-old, which is considered middle age. 

“It was really awsome to see all the work culminated in a display.  I have seen it at Science Central and I think that it is really great to see it displayed in its hometown,” Surface-Evans said.

Surface-Evans is a Professor in the Department of Social Science at Lansing Community College in Michigan, where she teaches Anthropology and Archeology.

September is Archeological Month in Indiana.

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