Sewer project unearths bones on family farm that have stayed hidden for 12,000 years

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SEYMOUR, IN (WAVE) – "We find Indian arrowheads and things like that, but something like this is unbelievable," Joe Schepman said.

Six feet under the family’s farm, crews pulled out heavy bones including limbs, a tusk and part of a skull belonging to an American Mastodon. (Source: WAVE)

One week ago, Schepman and his family members, Sue and Tony Nehrt, got a call. The crew out working on a sewer line project on their family's farm had found bones.

"He said, 'No, these are not just any kind of bones,'" Sue Nehrt said. "I said, 'Really?' He said, 'Yeah, they think it's a mastodon.'"

Six feet under the family's farm, crews pulled out heavy bones including limbs, a tusk and part of a skull belonging to an American Mastodon.

"And if we had the whole skull, it would probably be three times that big," Schepman said.

Since pulling the mastodon bones out of the ground one week ago, they're already starting to dry out. Schepman said the tusk they found actually used to be in one piece. That's why they want to get them to a museum quickly, so they can be preserved.

"They are drying out a lot so I take and I put the lawn sprinkler on them, and they soak up moisture to help preserve them until the museum can take them or whatever happens to them," Schepman said. "Since they've been out of the ground, they're starting to decay a little bit more. I know if I tried to keep them, they're just going to turn back, they're going to be dust. Because I can see that happening and I don't want that to happen. I want some other people to say I've seen these bones in a museum."

Ron Richards, senior research curator of paleobiology with the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, came down to Seymour to see the bones. He said they belong to a male mastodon that appears to be around 42 years old when it died anywhere between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago.

Richards took back a piece of vertebrae to be radiocarbon-dated for an exact age of the mastodon remains. He said finds like this one aren't necessarily that unusual for Indiana. More than 250 mastodon remains had been uncovered, he said, but most of those were in northern Indiana.

Mastodon remains in southern Indiana tend to be older than those in northern Indiana, but are often found exposed in riverbeds or washed out in banks, typically just one or two bones. Finding such an intact skeleton in southern Indiana, Richards said, is more unique.

"It's just unreal how big this thing would have been," Schepman said.

The family has owned the land where the mastodon was found for more than a century.

"It's probably 130 or 140 years now, but when you think about 10,000 years, that's pretty amazing," Schepman said.

So now, this mastodon is a part of their family, too. He's even got a name.

"Alfred," he said. "That's my grandfather who bought the farm originally."

After keeping the remains above ground for a week, Joe and Sue are hopeful the museum will accept Alfred, preserving him for people to enjoy for generations to come.

"We just want to share them with our kids, grandkids and everybody that we can because we think it's a really neat find," Nehrt said.

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