NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — Dinosaurs: they are enormous, they are mysterious and they are mesmerizing — but erecting these mammoth creatures in a museum for all to see is no easy feat.
“It’s not just going to a museum and seeing an end product and going ‘oh, look at the trends are on display.’ That it’s nice. You can go to lots of museums and see tyrannosaurs on display, but actually holding the fossils, touching the fossils, getting out working with those shards and understanding that not everything is pretty,” said Becky Barnes, paleontologist and lab manager for North Dakota Geological Survey
Barnes, along with paleontologists Clint Boyd and Jeff Person work as a team to educate and preserve the ancient animals beneath our feet.
But a team of three is not enough to get the job done, and that is where the Public Fossil Dig Program comes in.
“My job is literally to be out here with the public and to help to run this program,” said Person, a paleontologist and collections manager for North Dakota Geological Survey. “I started about 15 years ago, and it’s we’ve been going gangbusters ever since.”
Person says all of the work and research they do and the amount of material collected would not be possible without volunteers participating in the program.
And how do these three paleontologists feel about working side by side with the public, watching others discover history?
“That’s kind of one of the things that drives me, one of the things that motivates me because I know how that feels,” shared Person. “And that’s what, that’s what brings me back to the field and gets me kind of fired up. And to see that through their eyes and through their experience.”
“You get to discover things that nobody’s ever seen before. That’s really the exciting part. If it’s a say an animal that’s already been found when you uncover that bone, you’re the first person to ever see that bone, that specific bone since it died, say 66 million years ago, and that’s just an amazing thought to me,” said Boyd, a senior paleontologist for North Dakota Geological Survey.
“I like to hover around and dig next to and encourage,” Barnes laughed. “But I really want other people to define the material. And I want them to get their hands dirty. And I want them to be the ones with their hands on the tools touching the fossils, working on the specimens to get them out. But I’m there for backup.”
While some jobs don’t change much day to day, that is not the case for a paleontologist.
“There’s always new things to find,” Boyd said. “You’ll never feel like there’s nothing to do or like, everything’s been done, you don’t get backed into that corner. There’s always new discoveries to make.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a if it’s a fragment of a bone, or if it’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth, it doesn’t matter,” said Person. “You always get that adrenaline rush.”
And once the discoveries are made, there is a lot more work to be done.
“It’s not just sitting behind the computer I get to do illustration, fossil restoration, molding, casting, sculpting, painting taxidermy, you name it,” Barnes exclaimed. “And every day is completely different, anything from running the lab to wrangling volunteers, to leading tours through the geology gallery.”
When all the work is complete, and the fossils are displayed for all to see and marvel at, there is one very important piece for these paleontologists.
“I just– I’m really happy to do this job to be able to protect these resources and to keep them around for the people of North Dakota,” Boyd shared. “I mean, that’s really why we do what we do is to make sure that these fossils get preserved for future generations.”
And that is why Barnes, Boyd and Person are three people you should know.