LOU'S VIEWS: No bones about it, State Museum mounts a mammoth show

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

A room of cornstalks might seem like an odd welcoming tableau for “Ice Age Giants,” the State Museum’s new exhibition about mammoths and mastodons—until you look closer and see the massive bones behind the fence.

These remnants belonged to mammoths and mastodons (more on the difference later), creatures that roamed Indiana in the ancient days before basketball ruled the land. The subtle introduction effectively demonstrates how routine the unearthing of prehistoric bones has become in Indiana—not just in rural parts of the state, but also in Indianapolis.

ae-20131112-114220-lls-15col.jpg Mastodons and mammoths populate this new exhibition. (Photo courtesy of Indiana State Museum)

From the cornfield, a boardwalk with audio transports visitors into a dig site, most of it for display only, but with a corner for hands-on exploration. Parental patience is a requisite here. Rather than rush the kids along while they are engaged, take time out yourself and lay hands on an actual 10,000-year-old bone, almost nonchalantly attached to the wooden fencing.

As you step down from the boardwalk, an effective push-button presentation plots points on a map where remains have been discovered—and where the State Museum leads the way in unearthing and examining these fascinating finds. In this, the second main area of the exhibition, science—and fun facts—take over. Mammoths and mastodons, we learn, are about as closely related as cats and dogs, with mammoths having closer family ties to today’s elephants. Bones take on the color of the soil where they are buried in a kind of multi-thousand-year dye job.

Thanks to interactives, we can hear the difference between the creatures throwing a temper tantrum, singing a love song, or

shouting a warning. And we can appreciate that, while the romantic notion of discovering an intact bone holds sway, that image glosses over the hard work done by scientists, who sometimes have to assemble bones from hundreds of fragments.

And, yes, there are lots of bones, including a 250-pound skull. Plus teeth, lots of them, some included on models with moving jaws that show how they chewed.

ae-20131112-115354-15col.jpg A replica of a bone dig has both hands-on and hands-off sections. (Photo courtesy of Indiana State Museum)

Lest such an exhibit slip by without some disgusting facts, the museum offers grizzly details about how foot pads detach days after death, leaving bones available to carcass scavengers.

The third section, the Hall of Giants, features larger collections of bones, including some assembled into a real bone mount of a mastodon that formerly resided in Allen County. It faces off against the cast of a mammoth from Wisconsin with time-lapse video showing how both were constructed.

Here (photo op alert) you can also grab a spear and, thanks to video, get a sense of what it was like to stand in the path of a charging mammoth.

FYI: There are also some interesting legalities included here as well. For instance, if you discover bones on your property, congratulations, you own them. Just let the Indiana State Museum know about them, OK? As demonstrated here, the folks here know what to do with them.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


  • Nice job
    Nice job, Lou. It makes me feel like I'm there, and that I want to go back and experience it all.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. With Pence running the ship good luck with a new government building on the site. He does everything on the cheap except unnecessary roads line a new beltway( like we need that). Things like state of the art office buildings and light rail will never be seen as an asset to these types. They don't get that these are the things that help a city prosper.

  2. Does the $100,000,000,000 include salaries for members of Congress?

  3. "But that doesn't change how the piece plays to most of the people who will see it." If it stands out so little during the day as you seem to suggest maybe most of the people who actually see it will be those present when it is dark enough to experience its full effects.

  4. That's the mentality of most retail marketers. In this case Leo was asked to build the brand. HHG then had a bad sales quarter and rather than stay the course, now want to go back to the schlock that Zimmerman provides (at a considerable cut in price.) And while HHG salesmen are, by far, the pushiest salesmen I have ever experienced, I believe they are NOT paid on commission. But that doesn't mean they aren't trained to be aggressive.

  5. The reason HHG's sales team hits you from the moment you walk through the door is the same reason car salesmen do the same thing: Commission. HHG's folks are paid by commission they and need to hit sales targets or get cut, while BB does not. The sales figures are aggressive, so turnover rate is high. Electronics are the largest commission earners along with non-needed warranties, service plans etc, known in the industry as 'cheese'. The wholesale base price is listed on the cryptic price tag in the string of numbers near the bar code. Know how to decipher it and you get things at cost, with little to no commission to the sales persons. Whether or not this is fair, is more of a moral question than a financial one.