On Jan. 6, the Stoffel family went hiking along the back of their 39-acre property near Murphysboro, an activity they enjoy in fall and winter. During the hike, seven-year-old Oliver found something very special in the creek bank — a large bone.

Oliver and his older brother Finn were playing in the rocks along the creek, when Oliver spotted the bone in a “dirt cave” along the bank.

“I was very excited to see a bone,” Oliver said, adding that his brother found a coyote skull earlier in the day.

A stick was holding the bone in place.

“At first it looked like a cave man bone because it was in a cave-like thing,” Oliver said.

He crawled under the overhang and pulled the bone out. He said it didn't smell good, so he “gave it a little wash.”

At first, Oliver’s mom, Mary Stoffel, thought he had uncovered a rock that was shaped like a bone. In a way, she was right. The bone is now a fossil and most of the organic matter has been replaced by bone. 

Oliver did what many students would do with a wonderful found treasure. He took it to school to show his teacher and his friends. He took the bone around to show all the teachers at his school, General John A. Logan Attendance Center in Murphysboro.

Shirley Krienert, a retired teacher who recently returned to the school as a kindergarten aide, was at the school and Oliver showed her the bone.

“I was glad I was at school when he found it. I’m not sure than anyone else would have been able to find out what is was,” Krienert said. “It is an exciting find.”

Krienert said although it sounds a little cliché, sometimes God does work in mysterious ways. Her son, Joe, is a graduate student at SIU studying hydrogeology.

“I took pictures and sent them to Joe. He is the one who did the initial research and gathered all the facts about it. He showed it to other geological scientists, and they added some other information,” Krienert said.

According to Joe and the other geologists, the bone is a Holocene age North American Bison humerus bone, which is part of the bison’s leg. It is probably between 2,000 and 3,000 years old.

At this point, most, if not all, the organic tissues have decomposed. The bone is fossilized. The scientists said it is rare to found a bison bone south of St. Louis. It more common to central and northern Illinois.

Krienert encourages families to get out and explore Southern Illinois, calling the region an area where there are artifacts to find.

"I think it is something wonderful. You never know how that changed his view of science, history or the outdoors," Krienert said. "There is nothing more precious than learning at a young age and having the freedom to do so."

She added that often those of us who grew up in Southern Illinois forget or do not appreciate all the special things it has to offer, including natural areas like creek beds and forests. There are so many wonders out there you can share with your children.

“There are treasures out there. Appreciate the little things you find. Explore and be open to the wondrous possibilities,” Krienert said. “I was so excited for Oliver. He will remember this forever.”

Oliver is still deciding what to do with the bone. He wants to keep it, but he would others to be able to see it, too. For now, the bone is displayed on a shelf in the family’s living room.

“I think it’s really cool that there’s something that old in our home,” Mary Stoffel said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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