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Hunting Dinosaurs by Boat

Between 1910 and 1916, during the second great dinosaur "bone rush" in North America, the famous fossil hunters Barnum Brown and Charles Sternberg engaged in a bit of friendly competition along the Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada. The areas along the banks, often inaccessible by land, were rich i...

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The 1912 AMNH crew on the scow Mary Jane. From the Dinosaur Hunting by Boat in 2010 blog.


Between 1910 and 1916, during the second great dinosaur "bone rush" in North America, the famous fossil hunters Barnum Brown and Charles Sternberg engaged in a bit of friendly competition along the Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada. The areas along the banks, often inaccessible by land, were rich in Cretaceous fossils, and both expeditions used large, flat boats called scows as floating bases of operation from which to collect specimens along the waterway. A century later, paleontologist Darren Tanke and colleagues are going to recreate this journey, right down to the clothes and toilets used by the 20th century crews.

Preparations for the 2010 expedition have been underway for quite some time. The Dinosaur Hunting by Boat in 2010 blog has updates and photos stretching back through last year showing the step-by-step construction of the boat. The scow they have created, based on the boat Brown's crew used called the Mary Jane, is nearly finished, and the crew will soon set off on their journey along the river. As the paleontologists stop and retrace the ground once prospected by earlier crews they hope to clear up some mysteries about where particular fossils came from, information essential to fully understanding some of the famous specimens the Brown and Sternberg crews collected.

If all goes as planned, the crew should reach Canada's Dinosaur Provincial Park around the beginning of August, and there will be public and private events to celebrate the trip. As they go along, however, the scientists hope to provide semi-regular updates about their progress and special events on their blog. While some paleontologists would prefer to hold on to the few comforts they can take into the field (one field scientist I mentioned the scow trip to scoffed and said he wouldn't go out into the field without his air-conditioned truck), I think the recreation of the scow expeditions is exciting, and I look forward to hearing about its progress as it winds down the Red Deer River.
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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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