Laurels of Carson City resident once helped excavate 11,450-year-old skull

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 11:36 am on Thursday, February 02, 2012

George Buck, a resident at The Laurels of Carson City, finds joy in the retelling of his stories where he helped uncover a mammoth skull nearly 50 years ago. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Nearly 50 years ago, George Buck helped uncover one of the greatest findings in the history of Lennon.

Today, the 93-year-old resident of The Laurels in Carson City continues to relive his experiences of excavating a rare mammoth skull by telling his tale of discovery to fellow residents.

Buck arrived at The Laurels in November 2010 and was immediately looking for ways to contribute.

“He didn’t want to just sit around, he wanted to do something useful,” said his daughter, Janet Arnold. “We tried to come up with some sort of job for him to do, but we couldn’t come up with anything for him.

George Buck’s students at Flint Junior College helped to uncover the Mammoth Skull buried deep underground. — Courtesy photo

So we then decided maybe he would like to talk to the residents about some of the things that he has done in his life.”

To Buck’s delight, he was given the opportunity to speak in front of fellow residents and relive his past experiences as a professor of zoology at Flint Junior College (now Mott Community College).

According to Buck, farmer Stan Borkowski, who owned property in Clayton Township near Lennon in the Flint area, was digging out a new pond when he stumbled across an odd object buried in the ground.

“He asked us if we would come in, take a look and dig,” Buck said. “He knew it was a tusk, but he didn’t know anything more than that.”

When Buck arrived with students from one of his college classes to help with the excavation, Borkowski’s discovery of a single tusk turned out to be much more.

“When we found the skull, there was no longer any doubt what it was,” Buck said. “We had found a Jefferson Mammoth. I knew from what I had read before that it wasn’t a mastodon. The grinding surface of the molar teeth didn’t have the high cusp like a mastodon would have had.”

The skull was brought back to Flint Junior College where students helped clean up the giant discovery. — Courtesy photo

When Buck tells his story, he doesn’t leave out a single detail. To the delight of other residents, he takes them back in time reliving a memory that very few others can say they have experienced.

“The tusk was 10 feet, 3 inches long and weighed 162 pounds of solid ivory,” Buck said. “The skull weighed 362 pounds and it took six of us to lift it out of the ground. We placed it in the trunk of an old Chevrolet and brought it back to the college.”

After Buck and his students helped wash the skull clean, they sent it to the University of Michigan to have it tested and see how old their findings really were.

“The University of Michigan said you’ll be lucky if it’s older than 4,000 years,” Buck said. “I knew it had to be older than what the university said based on where I found it and the geological history of that area, I knew it was older than that.”

Buck was right.

Radio carbon dating came back with results of the bones being 11,450 years old.

Althea Powell, an activities aide at The Laurels who helped arrange Buck’s telling of the story, said she felt like she was back in 1962 as he told his tale.

“Once he started talking, George the professor came out,” Powell said. “I was just entranced in the story. You almost felt like you were there as he was telling it.”

Powell said she wasn’t the only one impressed with Buck’s story.

“The residents were in awe, and they talked about it for days,” Powell said. “How many people are ever going to hear a story like that? They kept asking questions and the more questions they asked the more excited they got.”

Powell said it’s not often a resident at The Laurels shows such a strong willingness to be so active with a desire to entertain others. She’s glad Buck is able to share his story.

“It’s very rare to have one of our own residents take on the tasks of sharing such an interesting story for everyone to hear about from their own life,” she said. “It makes you wonder what other hidden gems are here at The Laurels.”

Arnold, who visits her father nearly every day, said she’s just happy to see him light up with a smile every time he gets the chance to share his adventure.

“When you get to be his age, it’s hard to find people who still appreciate what you’ve done so long ago,” she said. “By retelling these stories, he’s found a whole new group of people who are fascinated by this stories.”

Despite it being so long ago and having told the story so many years later, Buck still looks back at one detail of his story with slight regret, but tells it with a smile.

“(The farmer) found some leg bones before he found the tusk, but he took them and threw them over into a flooded gravel pit,” Buck said. “I hired a diver to look, but we just couldn’t find them.

“Boy, I would give anything just to get those leg bones back,” Buck said.

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