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Silver Bluff student digs for dinosaur fossil in Montana

September 22, 2018

Like millions of American kids, Isaiah Jones, a student at Silver Bluff High School, has participated in typical summer activities over the years: swimming lessons, soccer, Pokemon league, summer camps and trips to beach with family. However, this summer, he did something that is not typical. He attended an actual dinosaur dig.

Even as a preschooler, Jones showed an interest in dinosaurs. He enjoyed getting dinosaur toys, books and cartoon videos. He also had a few dinosaur-themed birthday parties as a young child complete with stickers, cakes, decorations and even a dinosaur piñata.

As he grew, his interest evolved into learning about actual dinosaurs. He read and collected many books about the science, history and facts of dinosaurs. He was thrilled a few years ago to receive an actual Spinosaurus tooth from his mother. His latest addition is coprolite (dinosaur poo) from the Charleston Museum.

Throughout these years, Jones has indicated that he would eventually like to be a paleontologist. To obtain a better idea of the “real life” work of paleontologists, Jones participated in a bonafide dinosaur dig this summer in Malta, Montana. This dig was organized by the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and conducted under the supervision of three paleontologists who, for past six years, have been carefully excavating a fossil of an Edmontosaurus located in the Hell Creek Formation.

This is a well-known area for finding and studying fossils which date back about 65-70 million years. Participants at the dig learned about the soil formations, how sites are located, what tools are needed, how to prepare fossils once removed, and about permissions required.

It is not all glory work. The vast expanse of hills and plains of Montana have myriad challenges. Participants travel in four-wheel drive vehicles along narrow, winding, dirt roads and then across grassy fields. There are no conveniences at the dig site; drinking water and food must be carried in.

The weather can change suddenly from hot and windy to heavy rainstorms. One must be prepared, but also patient. When rain comes, work immediately stops since Montana clay roads become untravellable when wet. Rainy days were used for indoor lectures or trips to nearby dinosaur museums.

This summer’s experience provided a wealth of practical information about the paleontology profession. And yes, he is looking forward to another dig next summer.

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