- Join Up To Be Part of a DINO-DIG
- You Might Meet a T-Rex….FACE-to-FACE
- Learn that We Live Among Much History
By Rich Creason
The rain began. Slowly at first, then turning into a torrential downpour. The water started running over the top edge of the high bluff along the river. As it ran downward, it washed dirt away forming small grooves in the bluff wall which became larger as the erosion continued, eventually forming several large gullies leading to the river below. The water level in the river rose and quickened, carving away the base of the hillside and allowing more earth to be washed away.
The storm eventually ended and the sky cleared. The local rancher rode his horse across his land surveying the damage. As he rode along the bluff, he noticed a large, dark object protruding from the hillside. Closer examination revealed it to be a bone of some type. The rancher took his find to a nearby museum and was informed he had found a dinosaur bone!
He did not know that before his cattle fed on this pasture, a small herd of 30 or 40 duck-bill dinosaurs grazed along his riverbank. The huge creatures were unaware in the not so distant future, they would all be extinct. The Edmontosaurus annectens were around 30 foot long, weighed four metric tons, and walked on either two or four legs depending on their current activity.
65 million years ago they were plentiful, eating grasses and other plants with their huge mouths, containing hundreds of teeth which were constantly being replaced. Now, the fossilized bones, teeth, and other parts of these giants can sometimes be found in the western part of the U.S. and Canada, usually beginning as a chance find such as the rancher riding by. Some of these bones can also be found on display in the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Each year, the Children’s Museum takes a trip to the far northwest corner of South Dakota to the tiny town of Faith, population 500. Near this town, the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Sue was found. This is one of the most complete T.rex skeletons ever found. Another T.rex skeleton called Bucky, found near this town, is now on exhibit in the Children’s Museum. Then, another one was found here, but we were going to this area to search for the remains of the duck-bill dinosaur.
Early last year, my wife, Susie, and I heard about the “dino dig” on one of our frequent visits to the Museum. Members (and also non-members) are invited to join staff at the dig site in South Dakota. For a reasonable fee, we signed up for one day of dinosaur fossil hunting. We were taught how to dig the bones properly, do all the paperwork involved with documenting where each piece was found, and how to actually get each item out of the ground carefully and protect it for its long trip back to Indianapolis.
We enjoyed last year so much we signed up for a five day dig this year. We arrived in Faith on July 10th and checked into the Prairie Vista Inn, the same place we stayed last year. The rooms are large, inexpensive, and extremely clean. Owners Roxanne and Terry Ensz greeted us and even remembered us from the year before. Shortly after we checked in, the Museum van loaded with our fellow dinosaur hunters pulled in, they had flown into the Rapid City airport. Most were from the central Indiana area, but there was one lady from Boston and a couple from New Hampshire. We had about eight total. Dallas, William, and Michelle, Museum staff members, and Jayne, a volunteer, would be supervising our digging. Nicole, another Museum staff was on site the week before we arrived, but had to return to Indy. Cindy, a local EMT from the Faith Ambulance Service, also joined us to look after our health, treat bug bites, bandage blisters, and take care of other, hopefully, minor problems.
Everyone present had been on numerous digs in previous years. My wife and I were the “rookies,” having been here only once before. Later in the week, a few more diggers showed up including Shelley, an administrator at the Museum, and Will, her son. Victor, another dinosaur expert, unfortunately had to stay back at the Museum so the visitors there had someone to answer questions.
Monday morning, we loaded our gear and coolers full of ice water, and headed for the dig site. Due to the extreme heat possible and the exertion required to dig all day, staying hydrated was a necessity. About a block out of town, we left paved road. We then traveled a gravel road to the ranch cutoff which was mostly dirt, maneuvered around a washed out bridge, through several barbed wire gates, crossed cattle guards, followed two wheel tracks across pastures, jumped gullies and finally arrived at our destination.
It looked the same as last year. There was a long structure covered with tarp to give us some shade. Underneath was a dirt ledge with flagged off sections so the finds could be accurately mapped. Since all of us had been here before and knew what to do, we each grabbed a good looking spot and started digging. Our tools consisted of clam shuckers, a small, wide, dull blade used to open clams and dig dinosaur bones, Exacto knives for fine digging, paint brushes for dusting off bones, and bottles of very liquid super glue (like water) called Paleobond. This was used to patch the numerous small cracks in the bones. The bones are very brittle and have to be glued often during the digging process.
We dug carefully with our clam shuckers until we heard a “crunch”. This is the sound when the blade hits a bone.
Then we had to clear all the dirt surrounding the find with the Exacto knife. We left a dirt pedestal intact under the bone to support it until the find could be mapped and removed. When we reached this point, the scientific part began.
My first find was a four inch piece of rib. These are common finds and are often short because they break easily.
Before removing any bone from the ground, the fossil is given a number, pictures are taken, the grid number where it was found is recorded, and the date, name of collector, body part (if known) and other pertinent information, is written down. Then a one meter square frame, divided into 10 square centimeter squares, is placed over the find and its location is drawn on graph paper. When this is finished, the bone is carefully lifted from its multi-million year old home, still on its dirt pedestal, and wrapped in several layers of paper towel to cushion and protect it, then wrapped again in aluminum foil, and taped shut. The tape is then labeled with name, numbers, etc. to correspond with the paperwork. The package is then placed in a large plastic container for its journey back to the Children’s Museum.
In our five days of digging, Susie and I found, dug, and documented 22 bones including five rib pieces about four to eight inches long, several pieces of vertebra from the neck to the tail, a couple chevrons (the underside of the tail), three skull elements (pieces), two jugals (cheek bone), a toe bone, and a couple of yet unidentified pieces. My best find of the week was a 28 inch rib. It is very unusual to find a piece of rib this long.
Numerous other bones were found including two femurs (the large leg bone). These were both around three feet long and took many hours to dig out. A large humerus (upper arm bone) and a large jaw bone were also found. The larger bones (including my rib piece) were wrapped in foil and then had a plaster cast applied to them before moving to help prevent breakage. These bones all went back to Indiana to be cleaned, repaired, and put on display or be used for research.
While duckbill bones are the most common finds at this site, other finds also include bones and teeth from other animals. Some of these include Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, Dromaeosaurs, Oviraptors, Troodons, and Pachycephalosaurs. Bones from other non-dinosaur critters are turtles, crocodiles, champosaurs (a croc-like creature) and gar fish.
The site we dig at is called a secondary deposit. This means the animal died somewhere else, but a river or stream washed their remains into this area. All the bones are “disarticulated”. This means the skeleton is not whole. The bones found side by side are almost never from the same animal. It is estimated around 2,000 different duckbills are buried at this site.
If you think this sounds like something you would be interested in doing next year, contact the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis at 317-334-3322, or visit www.childrensmuseum.org. You can get information on “Dino Digs”, memberships, events, exhibits, or anything else you need to know about the Museum. Visit the Dinosphere to see the dinosaur fossils, displays, and touch actual bones millions of years old. You can also meet many of the staff who supervise our dino digs and try to stump them with questions you’ve always wanted to ask about dinosaurs.
From author Creason: “If you live anywhere near central Indiana, I would highly recommend getting a membership of some type to the Museum. We purchased a Premier Membership. This allows two grandparents (us), one grandchild and two guests to enjoy the attractions as often as we want, plus it includes many other privileges and discounts. Many other types of memberships are also available. With the large variety of exhibits at the Museum, you don’t even have to be a kid to enjoy visiting.” The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.