Experts identify skeleton in lake

Dogs pull unsavory objects out of lakes often enough, but Cappy, a chocolate lab owned by Jim Schissel, dredged up something truly bizarre from Lake Ocheda this month.

Dogs pull unsavory objects out of lakes often enough, but Cappy, a chocolate lab owned by Jim Schissel, dredged up something truly bizarre from Lake Ocheda this month.

It seemed to be the entire spinal column of an animal more than four feet long, with a bone attached at one end that looked like a skull, complete with empty eye sockets and an upper jaw.

"She brought it up on the yard and laid it up on the yard," Schissel said.

His wife, Rose, was with the dog when the skeleton was found.

For the first week Schissel had the strange bones in his barber shop, more than 50 people came to look at them and give an opinion on what the animal had been. The dog had never pulled anything like that out of the lake before, and for a while, the object was a thing of mystery.


Then, Jim's daughter-in-law, Becky Schissel, who works as an X-ray technician in Rochester, performed a simple action on the skeleton that suddenly made it clear exactly what the beast had once been.

Becky turned the skeleton upside down.

The flattened, fierce-looking "skull" was actually a pelvis, and what looked like eye sockets were actually sockets for the femurs -- the upper leg bones. The real skull was missing.

People had been holding the skeleton upside down the whole time. Right-side up, it was clearer that the skeleton was probably that of a deer.

"A lot of people have come in here to see that. A lot of people have thought it was a fish," Schissel said, laughing. "Nobody had turned it upside down like that."

The identification of the animal got more definite after an archaeologist from the Minnesota Historical Society weighed in on the matter.

David Mather, National Register Archaeologist, identifies bones from archaeological sites, including bison, elk, caribou, moose, wolves, black bears, grizzly bears and once, memorably, a large bird that may have been an ostrich or an emu.

"While it's often difficult to identify bones from a picture, I'm pretty confident about this one," Mather wrote after receiving the picture via e-mail. "It looks like a deer to me."


Mather explained the skeleton just like Becky Schissel had, noting the thing everyone had thought was the skull was really the pelvis. He did leave open the possibility that the animal had been a sheep, which would have a similar pelvis shape.

"It looks a little big for a sheep, so I'm guessing deer," Mather added.

He also filled in some of the details about the animal's demise, speculating that the deer had been killed by a car or a hunter and dragged by animals to where it had been found.

"The ribs and some of the extensions of the vertebrae have been chewed off," Mather said. "It looks like the sacrum -- the tailbone, at the base of the spine and the top of the pelvis -- is broken."

Mather even provided an estimated time of death.

"Since the soft tissue is gone, but the connective tissue is still holding the bones together, I'd guess that the animal died last fall or early winter," Mather said.

Mather encouraged people to report unusual bones to the Minnesota Historical Society or the Science Museum of Minnesota. If there is any possibility the bones could be human, law enforcement should be contacted before disturbing them.

Now that he knows what it is, Schissel plans to throw the bones away.


"Well, nobody in here guessed what it was," Schissel said. "(Everyone thought) it was either a snake, an alligator or a fish."

(The Worthington Daily Globe is owned by Forum Communications, which also owns Detroit Lakes Newspapers)

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