Dinosaur Dig Checks in from Montana

A Triceratops roams Michigan
A Triceratops roams Michigan Flickr image by Kim Scarborough

Famed paleontologist Jack Horner is out in the dusty badlands of eastern Montana, aiming his chisel at ancient bone fragments that may once have belonged to a Triceratops. He's working in 100-degree heat at the aptly named Hell Creek Formation, a chunk of bedrock that's between 67 million and 65 million years old. And since the dinosaurs vanished in a puff of meteoric mayhem 65 million years ago, that means these are some of the last dinosaurs ever to live.***

Last year at this site, he and his team uncovered two Triceratops, one big adult and a younger, smaller one. In other years, they've found duck-billed dinosaurs ("hadrosaurs") as well as the big kahuna, Tyrannosaurus. As someone who has looked for but never found a fossil larger than my thumbnail, I can't imagine the feeling of brushing the rock chips off a giant, three-horned skull the size of an armchair.

Horner, a paleontologist at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, is perhaps most widely known as the inspiration for the velociraptor-battling Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park.

Yesterday, Horner took a break from digging to make a video call over to the British Natural History Museum. On the other end of the line was the museum's own paleontologist, Angela Milner and a crowd of curious museum visitors. The whole event went out live on the Internet (watch the archive here).

In case the webcast doesn't quite fill up your curiosity, you can move on to the Smithsonian's own animated Triceratops website, play a fossil-digging game (warning: the paper towels are a lot harder to handle than the rock hammer), or read about a recent Wyoming dig through the eyes of a young journalism student.

***Unless you count birds as living dinosaurs, that is. Horner certainly does - see his suggestion, last year, about "discovering" the dinosaur bones in your Thanksgiving Turkeyosaurus.

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