Productive dinosaur dig has students buzzing
- Carthage College
August 21, 2012
by Michael Moore
Jutting out from a hillside in Montana, a quarter-sized section of bone caught the eye of Carthage sophomore Jennifer May. What she found beneath the accumulated rock kindled dreams of a new career path.
Jennifer and her friend Steve Hobe ‘15 barely contained their excitement as they carefully uncovered a partial skull from a Triceratops — one of many highlights from a recent study tour led by Professor Thomas Carr. A student in the College’s pre-engineering program, Jennifer found the study tour so engrossing that she’s considering a switch to the paleontology emphasis offered within the biology major.
Days after returning home, the Kenosha resident remained energized by the discovery of the three-horned dinosaur. The site was dubbed Jessie’s Hill after Jennifer named the Triceratops for the 1980s song “Jessie’s Girl,” a family favorite.
Interest in the annual expedition has grown. Prof. Carr, a noted vertebrate paleontologist who teaches in the Biology Department, brought an unusually large group of 10 Carthage students on this summer’s tour July 21-Aug. 5. Students also benefited from the expertise of Dr. Megan Seitz, a paleontologist whom the College hired in 2011 for the new role of preparator.
Prof. Carr reported a productive dig session. Their efforts largely centered on a quarry in southeastern Montana where a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex known as Little Clint was found in 2006.
Carthage did bolster its collection of T. rex bones — a relatively rare find, according to Prof. Carr. While prospecting with three others in the group, Steve spotted a bone just north of the Little Clint site. After carefully exposing the rest using dental tools and a special glue, the prospectors determined it was likely a metatarsal (foot bone) from a juvenile T. rex.
“Most students aspiring to be a paleontologist don’t get a chance to go out in the field and do work until graduate school,” he said. “This trip is going to be very memorable for me because I had the time of my life doing what I love. I dove head-first into exactly what a career in this field will entail.”
Other student discoveries included a humerus (shoulder bone) from a Triceratops, a portion of a vertebra from the crocodile-like reptile Champsosaurus, and a tooth from a type of feathered dinosaur known as a troodontid. Prof. Carr said members of the class also helped haul a 200-pound field jacket containing fossils from an extinct species of turtle and applied burlap and plaster jackets to other bones.
Before heading west, the class spent a week on campus studying the biology of prehistoric creatures and their links to modern species. Besides the lengthy stint in the field, the group visited museums in South Dakota and Montana.
Prof. Carr anticipates each successful dig will draw more visitors to both Carthage and the Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, which houses the Carthage Institute of Paleontology. Dr. Seitz is based there, and Prof. Carr is scientific adviser to the museum.
“We’re building up a research collection for students and scientists to work on,” he said.