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Indiana State Museum exhibition is portal to time when giant mammals ruled Indiana
Guests will experience a real excavation dig, test bones and learn the difference between mammoths and their shorter, stockier cousin mastodons.

INDIANAPOLIS, IND.- More than 80,000 years ago, during the last advance of glacial ice, a cooling climate forced the ice sheets of the Arctic to expand. This had a major impact on many living things. The largest ice sheet covered much of North America. Buried beneath the path of ice sheets that once covered Indiana, are the remains of giant mammals that once ruled the land.

Beginning Saturday, Nov. 16, the Indiana State Museum is hosting Ice Age Giants: The Mystery of Mammoths and Mastodons. The exhibition explores Ice Age animals and their environments, what happens at a real dig site and the research that helps us to understand prehistoric mammals. The exhibit also features real mounted skeletons and casts of Ice Age animals, as well as fossil tusks and skulls.

“I am extremely excited about this project, which, I believe is going to blow the minds of museum visitors this fall,” said Indiana State Museum Senior Research Curator of Paleobiology Ron Richards. “Guests will get to walk among the remains of giant mammoths and mastodons that roamed Indiana some 13,000 years ago.”

Divided into six sections, the exhibition looks at the factors, including climate that may have played a role in the eventual extinction of these giants. Guests will experience a real excavation dig, test bones and learn the difference between mammoths and their shorter, stockier cousin mastodons.

“Mastodon bones have been discovered in most of Indiana’s 92 counties. Mammoths were not as plentiful, but still roamed the area,” Richards added.

Sections 1: The Thrill of Discovery
Indiana is a “hidden” graveyard of “giants”: mammoths and mastodons. Discovery of their remains and the ensuing dig has always generated excitement and fascination in local communities and beyond. The Indiana State Museum has excavated many Indiana mastodon and mammoth sites, each of which poses fascinating questions about the life and times of these ancient beasts.

Section 2: When the Pickin’ is Good
Before you lies a recreation of a mastodon dig in northern Indiana. It is amidst the pumping of water, shoveling of soil, moving of buckets, water screening, mapping, and photography that the delicate task of digging ancient bones takes place. Imagine what it is like to expose an animal that has been buried for 13,000 years to daylight! Kids can try their hands at uncovering bones in the Interactive Dig Pit.

Section 3: Messages of the Bones
After the dig, the preservation and study of the remains begin. Study of the bones allows us to determine the age and sex of an animal, any injuries or disease and perhaps how the animal may have died. After determining the age of the site and analyzing other buried “evidence,” we begin to understand how and when the site developed and what it tells us about the life and environments of the Ice Age.

Section 4: Hall of Giants
Enter and examine a part of the Indiana State Museum’s Ice Age bone collection—the largest in the Midwest. Most of the collection has been donated by families and individuals who wanted their finds to be preserved and valued for their scientific, educational and exhibition importance for all Hoosiers. Found throughout the state, remains such as these reveal that Indiana was once an “elephant graveyard.” As you examine these remains, take a quiz to see just how much you are learning.

Section 5: What Happened?
What Happened to these beasts? Some 10,000 or 11,000 years ago many large mammals suddenly became extinct, while many small ones drastically shifted their ranges. The reasons are unclear.

Were predators such as the sabertooth or giant short-faced bear to blame? Explore the three major areas of investigation on the selective extinction of large mammals at the end of the Ice Age: rapid environmental change, overhunting by humans, and disease.

Section 6: Tusk to Tusk
Before you are full-size mounts of two Indiana “giants.” Can you imagine the quaking of the earth, upraised trunks, roaring, trumpeting and aggressive clashes if two bulls like this had a chance encounter while in their mating season?

The American Mastodon is a real bone mount of the Buesching mastodon (affectionately named “Fred”) from Allen County, Ind. The Jefferson’s mammoth skeleton is a cast of the Hebior mammoth from Wisconsin.

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