Updated: January 25, 2013 9:37PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A mastodon skeleton unearthed in northeastern Indiana 15 years ago has gone on display at the Indiana State Museum following meticulous conservation work to assemble the giant beast’s skeleton and replace a few missing bones.
The hulking skeleton of the elephant-like animal that lived some 13,000 years ago was unveiled Thursday night at the Indianapolis museum. It stands about 9 feet tall and is 25 feet long, sporting an impressive set of tusks.
Allen County resident Dan Buesching and his family were among the first visitors to see the fully assembled skeleton, which has been named Fred. They joined a crowd of donors, museum and paleontology experts at the exhibit’s opening.
Buesching dug up Fred’s bones in 1998 in a peat bog at the family’s Buesching Peat Moss & Mulch farm in Allen County. His find included the animal’s 250-pound skull.
Buesching donated the partial skeleton to the state museum in 2006, and a fundraising drive that raised more than $200,000 paid for it to be assembled and mounted on a customized metal frame. He told The Indianapolis Star during Thursday night’s opening that he’s impressed by the result.
“It makes you feel pretty small knowing something that old was there,” he said. “Kind of puts you in your place.”
Ron Richards, the state museum’s paleontology curator, said the Buesching family spent thousands of dollars helping excavate the skeleton before donating it to the museum. He said a branch of the family also donated $20,000 to finance the mounting for the tooth-filled skull.
Richards and his team built casts of some of the mastodon’s missing bones to recreate its full skeleton.
“We built it from the toes up,” he told The Journal Gazette.
Museum officials said the skeleton is thought to be one of the most complete — if not the most complete — mastodon skeleton found to date in the Midwest.
About 85 percent of Fred’s 300 bones are real. Typically, fewer than 50 percent of a mastodon’s bones are found.
“It’s just unbelievable to see,” said Bill Browne, chairman of the museum board. “You don’t often see full bone-mounted skeletons.”