Fossil findsMEDORA — With brushes and picks they gingerly dug into the ground, uncovering fossils that haven’t seen the light of day in 60 million years.
By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press
MEDORA — With brushes and picks they gingerly dug into the ground, uncovering fossils that haven’t seen the light of day in 60 million years.
About 45 people spent Saturday in Medora digging for fossils at a site south of the Medora Riding Stables, where a swamp once stood.
“At this site here they have an ancient-type of crocodile, called champsosaurs which were about 8 feet long,” said John Hogenson, state paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, who supervises the digs. “Back then it would have been a swamp area with some forest, much like the Everglades — totally different from what it looks like today.”
Saturday afternoon families and individuals uncovered crocodile, fish and turtle remains, even roots to ancient swamp plants.
Saturday marked the last day of the digs for the summer and though it was 80-plus degrees and windy, that did not deter people from coming to the dig.
A trip to Medora was a plan that was a few years in the making for dig participant Dave Ebert of Michigan and the Bell family from Ohio.
Ebert said he found out about Medora almost by accident on the Internet, and decided it sounded like a great place to visit.
“This is our first time in Medora,” said Emily Bell, Dave Ebert’s daughter. “Dad wanted to come a few years ago but he couldn’t because of cancer.
“He survived cancer and we thought we should definitely come out.”
Emily’s son Gwynn Bell, age 5, found fossil digging a little difficult. “It’s kind of hard to get them out,” Gwynn said.
Toward the end of the afternoon session, Gwynn managed to dig out half of an ancient clam shell intact, not a small feat for anyone who digs fossils, Hogenson said.
“We’ve really enjoyed it out here,” Emily said. “It’s been a great experience.”
In an earlier-morning session, 21 people dug at the site.
“We’ve found hundreds of fossils,” Hogenson said. “It all started about five years ago. They were closing up a well out here and the state mineral department came out to make sure it was closed up properly.
“When they came out here they saw bones coming out of the rock. We thought it’d be a great place for public fossil digs.”
Others have found mammal and bird remains, he added.
The land the digs are conducted on belongs to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. The fossils collected go to the North Dakota Heritage Center where they are cleaned and inspected, Hogenson said.
Hogenson is also involved in digs near Rhame and Marmath and hopes to get a fossil exhibit in Medora. “It’s a great program. It’s really a one-of-a-kind experience.”
“It’s educational for the people of North Dakota to learn about their state and it gives tourists an opportunity to come out here and see the area,” he said.