Hollywood movies like “Indiana Jones,” portray a heightened reality of archeology and excavation. With excavation sites in places as exotic as the findings, people begin to believe bones and artifacts are impossible to find in areas like Tulsa. According to Donny Replogle, the Tulsa area is a fossil and artifact hot-spot.
When Replogle was 7 years old, he fell out of a tree and grabbed the ground underneath him. He opened his hand to find some rocks and an arrowhead. He knew what an arrowhead was but had never seen one before. His lucky find sparked a passion, and he hasn’t stopped looking for artifacts since.
Replogle surface hunts rivers throughout Oklahoma for bones, teeth and other artifacts. The sand in the Arkansas River and others around the area naturally preserve bones, making them prime spots for surface hunts.
“The sand is what is preserving the bones,” said Replogle. “The sand is like a time capsule. Something heavy gets in the sand and it sinks down during a flood and gets buried, and the sand seals the oxygen off allowing it to be preserved.”
According to Replogle, the bones can sit in the rivers for thousands of years until another flood brings them to the surface. Once the bones are at the surface, archaeologists have a limited amount of time before they crumble.
Most of the bones found in Oklahoma rivers, especially the Arkansas River, are mammoth and mastodon bones. Because of Oklahoma’s dual climate, all species of mastodon and mammoth can be found in Oklahoma’s earth.
Replogle’s collections of mastodon and mammoth bones have all been found within a 50-mile radius of Tulsa. After 35 years of hunting in the Arkansas River, Replogle knows what to look for and where to look.
“There are a lot of clues,” said Replogle. “When I see glass fragments in the river, I know glass travels in the water just like flint. If I’m walking along and I see a bunch of broken glass that somebody didn’t just shoot a bunch of bottles there, I know arrowheads will be there. If I’m looking for big bones, I go where big stuff is.”
Replogle, a high school graduate, taught himself everything he knows about bones through books and Internet research.
“When I was a kid, nobody knew anything about arrowheads,” he said. “In fact, when I would go out on the river, I would see nobody. When I was 9, 10, 11 years old, I would be the only person. I would see nobody for miles. Now you see everybody out there.”
Some of Replogle’s most interesting finds have been from areas where people have looked over the bones thinking they are rocks or logs.
“I went down to the river. I pulled across the Bixby bridge and pulled in there and parked where the pedestrian bridge is. I walked down below and put all my gear on and walked out to the river and get to the edge of the water. I’m still putting stuff on and I look down and there are two sticks sitting there. They are about 3 feet apart,” said Replogle. “I can see where they had their fishing poles standing. They still had line, nets and trash lying there. Between two sticks is sittings this mammoth tooth in the sand fully exposed. They fished by that all night long and never knew. They probably thought it was a rock.”
Replogle travels throughout the area exhibiting his collection of finds. Years ago, he met ORU’s Roger Bush, the director of the Elsing Museum at a show and began displaying his collection in the Indian Nations Fossil and Relic show at the Mabee Center.
Starting Jan. 15, Replogle will be displaying part of his mastodon and mammoth collection in the Elsing Museum. Students will be able to touch and feel the bones and teeth Replogle brings as Oklahoma archeology comes to life in the Elsing Museum. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.