Thursday, June 21, 2007

Responsible and Ethical Fossil Collection - The Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management, a part of the US Department of the Interior, is the federal agency which oversees the preservation of natural and cultural resources found on public land in the United States. They currently manage 261-million acres of land (approximately 1/8 of the United States). Here at Cincinnati Museum Center, we stay in contact with the BLM year-round to ensure that we are collecting fossils in an ethical and responsible manner, and that the fossils in our collections are being maintained in an appropriate way.

Many paleontologists (both amateur and professional) choose to look for fossils on privately-owned property, but the process for working on BLM-managed property is a very rigorous one. Some plant and invertebrate fossils may be collected by amateur paleontologists on federal land, but to prospect or collect vertebrate fossils (including trace fossils like trackways, coprolites, or skin impressions) requires special permits.
"Fossils found on public lands are important for the story they can tell us about the development of life on Earth and about the physical changes in the Earth itself. They provide clues to a myriad of important and intriguing questions, from the “hot” topic of dinosaur extinctions to studies of plate tectonics (the geology of the Earth’s structural deformation). Consequently, the public lands provide great outdoor laboratories and classrooms for the study of paleontology and also contribute significantly to public exhibits found in museums. For example, BLM’s Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah has produced fossils that are exhibited in over 40 museums worldwide. Undamaged, BLM’s fossil resources can reveal not only how the plant and animal communities have changed, but how the face of the Earth has been altered by the movement of continents, the uplift of mountain ranges, the appearance and disappearance of ice caps, and the flooding and drying of huge areas of land.

The need to protect these precious resources is urgent—BLM does not have the luxury of leaving the preservation or restoration of a unique cultural or paleontological resource for another day. As the agency pursues its multiple use mission, we need the help of the public to do so in a manner that meets contemporary economic and community goals, while conserving our priceless heritage for the next generation."
You can find out more about the BLM and the many projects they manage by visiting their website at, or by reading their America's Priceless Heritage: Cultural and Fossil Resources on Public Lands (2003), from which the quote above is taken.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mother's Day Site...revisited

Well, we're gearing up for our return trip to Montana. With less than five weeks until our departure from Cincinnati (egads!), our gear and tools are being counted and checked for damage, vehicles are being procured (and given a thorough tune-up), and we're trying to conclude the more administrative responsibilities we have here before saddling-up for the 26-hour cross-country drive.

Early in preparations for the 2006 season of the Dinosaur Field School, Dr. Glenn Storrs explained the history of the quarry where our dinosaurs are being unearthed every summer. I wanted to share that once again so those of you who are joining us for the first time can have a little bit of background.

The Mother's Day Site, in south-central Montana, was discovered (on Mothers' Day, natch!) in 1996 by Kurt Padilla, a volunteer for the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. The site was worked for two years for MOR by Kristy Curry-Rogers (now at the Science Museum of Minnesota). With other projects in the Cretaceous taking priority, MOR was unable to continue its excavations at Mother's Day and with their blessing (thanks again, Jack!), staff at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asked me to take on the excavations at the site in order to preserve its fossils for the benefit of the American people and the scientific community in general. As with all vertebrate fossil sites on federal land, we work under permit to the BLM and all collected specimens are reposited at Cincinnati Museum Center where they can be accessed by all.

The site preserves thousands of bones of dozens of, mostly young, sauropod dinosaurs. We believe that a single herd of gracile diplodocids, probably Diplodocus, became trapped at a shrinking water hole during seasonal drought about 140 million years ago. The site is thus a monospecific, catastrophic assemblage that provides insight into Late Jurassic environments and paleoecology, and on the paleobiology of a single species of giant dinosaur. Of course, the seven years of work up to this point have given us a better understanding of the site than when we began our excavations. A master's degree under my supervision at the University of Cincinnati by T. Scott Myers (now at Southern Methodist University) has been completed recently on the taphonomy (environmental and depositional history) of MDS and has answered many of our initial questions. Scott and I are undertaking to publish this work now.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dinosaur Field School Featured on

Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. We tend to agree, especially when it's good publicity. This week's issue of the Dinosaurnews Webzine ( features not one but two articles on the Dinosaur Field School and the DFS Blog. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blogging about Digging Dinosaurs

When we started the Dinosaur Field School Blog last summer, we had no real goals or targets about who would visit or where they might come from. As the hits kept coming, we were surprised to see where our visitors were coming from. In the 10 months or so since we went live, we’ve seen visitors from 21 foreign countries and 44 states (plus the District of Columbia). If you know anyone in the following states, send them a link and have them add their state to the tally: Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont. (Update 6/12/07: A curious visitor has joined us from Utah...only 5 more states to go!)

What this has proven to me, and to others at Cincinnati Museum Center, is that even in this age of media and on-demand gratification, the simple story of scientists and their love for their work (in this case, paleontology) is still a powerful one.

This DFS Blog is coming back to life as we approach the start of the 2007 field season, officially beginning in mid July when a group of us will be traveling by caravan to Montana. We have several folks already signed up to join us, including a couple of parent/child combinations and participants from the CMC Youth Program, but there is still time to sign-up by calling (800)733-2077 x7021. We’ll have some more posts coming in the next six weeks before our departure, and then we’ll try to post every day we have access to an Internet connection while in Montana.