IU to recreate ancient, giant sloth skeleton

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana University is building a replica of a giant ground sloth’s skeleton that was once a star attraction in its natural history collection but was removed to make room for students during an enrollment surge following World War II.

Officials said the project aims to teach people about the megalonyx jeffersonii that roved around Indiana thousands of years ago while also shedding light on an unfortunate decision in IU history, The Herald-Times reported.

“It’s a mixed tale of regret and loss, but it’s also a promise for better care for our collections across the university system as we move into our third century,” said Gary Motz, assistant director for information services at the Indiana Geological and Water Survey.

Some bones from the sloth’s 10 ½-foot-tall skeleton that were tossed have been recovered, along with skeletons of a mastodon and a mammoth.

“According to some alumni records in the IU archives, they were thrown out a window,” said Polly Root Sturgeon, outreach coordinator at the Indiana Geological and Water Survey.

This summer, the sloth’s remaining bones will be recreated using 3D printing and the missing ones will be cut from cardboard with a laser to reconstruct the skeleton for a traveling exhibition tied to IU’s 200th anniversary year. The IU Office of The Bicentennial subsidized the project with a $25,000 grant.

Beginning in August, the imitation skeleton will take a journey throughout all 92 counties in the state before returning to Bloomington.

Sturgeon added that she hopes the project will make people more aware of the school’s unique story.

“You don’t often hear about large skeletons being thrown out,” she said. “It’s an interesting aspect of IU’s history.”

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