A treasure hunt for the past – What is it like to dive for bones in Alexandria's Lake Victoria?They were looking for bones. The waters shone like glass Tuesday afternoon as we journeyed across Lake Victoria in Alexandria fishing guide Roger Van Surksum’s speedboat to the dive site on the southwest end of the lake.
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
They were looking for bones.
The waters shone like glass Tuesday afternoon as we journeyed across Lake Victoria in Alexandria fishing guide Roger Van Surksum’s speedboat to the dive site on the southwest end of the lake.
Van Surksum took the helm while divers Wayne Wagner and Wesley Torgrimson readied for another dive, perhaps their last search for bison bones at the site before state archaeologists took charge of the area.
“Here I sit, with that curiosity bugging me – retired and nothing else to do, but think about history,” Van Surksum said of finding the first bone. “It could be way bigger than I had imagined.”
Excitement shone on their faces as Torgrimson and Wagner donned scuba gear. Each man carried about 60 pounds of weight on his back, including a tank, to keep him from rising to the surface.
“You always think it is boring in Minnesota, but when you find stuff like this, it’s not,” Wagner said with a smile. “There is all this history around here. It’s so exciting.”
It was a treasure hunt with a historical prize. With each bone discovered, a piece of the past was unearthed – a filament of a life long gone, but just beneath our feet.
It was time to start the search.
Torgrimson plunged into the dark waters first. With a quick flip of his fins and a dive backwards, Wagner followed.
Van Surksum trained his eyes on the waters, watching for bubbles from the divers below.
Not more than two minutes later, the waters rippled. Wagner resurfaced, clasping a black, neck bone in his hand.
“It’s kind of like split pea soup down there,” he said.
To find the bones, the men often had to feel along the floor of the lake with their hands, searching for the slight bump created by a bone’s joint, and then scrape around to pull the bone out of the earth.
Torgrimson estimated about 10 percent of the objects he found on the lake’s floor were bones.
“I get right up close to the ground and start feeling around,” he said. “It’s kind of spooky when you get down there.”
The water temperature in the deeper depths can get cool, too, dropping into the 50s, according to the men.
“Man, it’s murky down there,” Torgrimson said after resurfacing - his arms filled with bones.
In some areas, the men could not see beyond their fingertips.
Wagner swam farther and farther away from the boat and dive buoy – maybe 100 yards. He seemed driven by an adventurous nature, later describing his childhood on a farm in the area as “a Huckleberry Finn existence.”
The men dove about 15 to 25 feet below the surface.
“When you get down around 25 feet, it was pretty clear,” Torgrimson said. “Otherwise, it was not very nice.”
They were unable to get closer to the shoreline due to thick weeds and murky waters.
Torgrimson and Wagner uncovered 20 bones in all Tuesday over a span of just two and a half hours.
“It’s just by luck, sometimes,” Torgrimson said.
The bones are in remarkably good condition.
“We’ve had a fun adventure,” Torgrimson said after climbing back into the boat.
Covered with a thick mass of green weeds, Wagner rose to the surface, clutching more bones. After handing the treasures to Van Surksum, he climbed into the boat.
After we arrived back onshore, Van Surksum, Wagner and Torgrimson discussed the striking number of bones scattered in such a small area beneath the cliff. Were they the remains of native inhabitants’ bison kill, a drought, sickness or simply the result of the bison falling through the ice?
I asked Van Surksum what his wife, Becci, thought of their quest.
Van Surksum said Becci and his entire family shared his enthusiasm in the adventure.
He added with a laugh, “Dad’s supposed to be walleye fishing – and here he is hunting for bones.”
Bones that just might unlock the mysteries of an ancient history.