Excavating a “Terrible-Lizard”

December 14, 2001

Paleontologist Peter Rodda (retired from the Academy of Science of San Francisco) gave the Obsidians an interesting account of a hunt for a dinosaur specimen — from the expedition logistics to the final display in the museum diorama. The search was centered in the sparsely populated wheatland of eastern Montana where the way of life was reminiscent of the Old West.

Finding a relatively complete skeleton of a dinosaur required strenuous hiking and digging in many steep ravines that were littered with literally tons of bone fragments. Experts in dinosaur skeletal anatomy is essential. Fortunately, they eventually found a very good specimen (about 75 percent complete) of a Triceratops, about 35 ft. long.

Uncovering the bones required much heavy labor, by a crew of six to eight, with pick and shovel — many tons of clay were removed. Then the bones were painstakingly isolated with delicate hand tools. The bones are very brittle and fragile and are eventually sealed in a coat of plaster of Paris for removal and transport. Fortunately, there evidently were no Bards of the Cretaceous period (50–100 million years ago) to manifest Shakespeare’s epitaph:

Blessed be the man that spares my bones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Interestingly, Peter told us that the most abundant bones to be seen were those of turtles. One might well wonder why the turtle escaped the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Will they escape extinction at the hand of man? Perhaps we humans should heed the message of Aesop’s fable, “The Hare and the Tortoise”, and slow down!

Bep Fontana

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