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13,000 years after his death, Fred reappears

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Arrested in mid-movement, head raised and tilted in danger-alert mode, the 9-foot-tall Fred inspires awe in his new home at the Indiana State Museum. Fred's journey from a late Ice Age forest to the museum is amazing.

He seems to have been felled at age 33 in head-to-head combat with another mastodon, presumably over territorial rights, as determined by analysis of radiocarbon dating and by observations of a fatal blow to his skull.

And there he rested for some 13,000 years in what would have been a pre-historic lake until a day in 1998 when Dan Buesching went about his usual work of digging up peat moss on his family's farm just west of Fort Wayne.

Still emotional all these years later, recalling the moment he realized it wasn't a pesky tree root impeding his digging but a 9 foot tusk, Buesching described his roller-coaster emotions speaking at the exhibition's opening on Jan. 24.

The rest of his extended family remains equally excited about the initial find and the succeeding uncovering of 80 percent of the bones of a "an Ice Age icon." After reporting his find to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, faculty, students and volunteers excavated the skeleton over a period of years.

In 2006 the Buesching family transferred rights to the ISM, which began investigating the best way to mount and exhibit the skeleton. Named after Fred Buesching, Dan Buesching's grandfather and founder of the family business, Buesching Peat Moss & Mulch, Fred the mastodon is mounted on a metal frame customized and crafted by the museum's mountmaker and sculptor Mike Smith.

Ronald Richards, paleontology curator at the Indiana State Museum, reminds us not to confuse mastodons with woolly mammoths. Mastodons, the older species, are believed to have originated in Africa 35 million years ago and to have entered North America about 15 million years ago. "Though the mammoth was taller, the mastodon was a bulkier animal," Richards said.

This fall, the mastodon will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit, Indiana's Ice Age Giants: The Mystery of Mammoths and Mastodons, presented by IMI. For now, you can visit Fred on his own.

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