BLM employees from the South Dakota and North Dakota field offices were afforded the intriguing opportunity of taking part in one day of a weeklong paleontological dig at Mud Butte, near Rhame, N.D., this summer.
Lots of congenial folks participated, including retirees who volunteer nearly full time at the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in Bowman, N.D.; Dean Pearson, the head of the local paleontological department; and John Hoganson, the North Dakota state paleontologist.
BLM employees who took part were Terry Chaplin, Bill Monahan, Meghan Monahan (volunteer), Russ Pigors, and Dennis Bucher from the South Dakota FO, and Lonny Bagley, John Hartley, and Marty Bonorden from the North Dakota FO.
We were excavating dinosaur bones from three dinosaurs at once: a triceratops, a hadrosaur, and one as yet unidentified. We observed one of the world's best terrestrial records of the K-T (Cretaceous - Tertiary) boundary, marking the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Mud Butte site has some excellent stratigraphic evidence of this K-T layer and may be yield some excellent data about the environment of dinosaurs near the time of extinction. Dean Pearson and John Hoganson believe this may be the site of the highest (latest) dinosaur found closest to this contact.
If we paid attention we could see 67-million year old plant roots, fossil leaves, and some odd little thingamajiggers that might be interesting under a microscope, as well as a live rattlesnake. A member of our group even found a dinosaur bone that the paleontologists hadn't yet flagged for excavation.
The excavation took place on BLM land, for which the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in Bowman, N.D., received an excavation permit. Unfortunately, this area has had quite a bit of theft of dinosaur fossils in the past.
Part of the reason we were given the opportunity to work on a fossil excavation was to give us a better sense of the paleontological resources that we, in both North Dakota and South Dakota, are trying to protect.
This experience may well also affect how our planning teams address paleontological resources in significant sites like this as we start our resource management plans.