Scientist sift through Pipe Creek Jr. sink hole one more time.
June 21, 2011

It was 13 years ago that scientists, teachers, students and an army of volunteers began excavating fossils from the Pipe Creek Jr. sinkhole in Grant County. This summer, the volunteers are back for another dig at the site.

In 1986, Richard Huffman, an employee of IMI, was clearing soil from a sinkhole in the Pipe Creek Jr. stone quarry. He spotted a bone in the dirt of his backhoe and called in other workers to take a look. What Huffman had uncovered ended up being one of the most important fossil finds east of the Mississippi River. The animal and plant remains found in the Pipe Creek Jr. sinkhole predated the Ice Age and had been a missing chapter in Indiana history.

IMI stopped their limestone mining operations in that area of the quarry. Paleontologists from Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and the Indiana State Museum were called in to assess the site. In the summer of 1988, they began to excavate the sinkhole at the IMI site. Thousands of bones were discovered, including giant tortoises, camels as large as giraffes, bears, dogs, peccaries, and big cats. One of the more rare finds was that of a teleoceras, or water rhinoceros. The fossils supplied evidence to just how different the landscape of Indiana was in the past. Finding the remains of animals that are indigenous to much warmer and arid environments suggested strongly that Indiana did not freeze during this time period.

Dr. James Farlow, Professor of Geology from IUPUI, and Ron Richards, Chief Curator of Natural History, Curator of Paleobiology for the Indiana State Museum have spearheaded the excavation at the Pipe Creek Jr. site ever since. This summer's dig begins the final stage of excavation at the site. Over the past 13 years, volunteers have dug out all of the dirt from the sink hole. "Because of the cost of recovery and investment of human resources there is always a practical point to end a dig," stated Richards. "With all of the prime bone-bearing dirt already removed from the sinkhole and examined in detail, there remains only one area of stockpiled soil from the sinkhole that in the past has yielded bones from some of the large animals. This year we have an immense task of screening those final soils, which IMI has strategically relocated for us." Outside of helping to move debris for the workers, IMI has left the sinkhole area alone since its discovery. IMI has donated the majority of the fossil find to the Indiana State Museum.

The final excavation is due to begin on June 27 and conclude around July 1.
A bone from an ancient camel is among one of thousands of fossils found at the Pipe Creek Jr. site.