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Volunteers Have Fossil Field Find on Forests and Grasslands

Posted by Meghan Stump, U.S. Forest Service in Forestry
Feb 21, 2017
Tom Ludwig sits smiling about his discovery among other U.S. Forest Service Passport in Time volunteers while unearthing the 31 inch Triceratops horn core  continues. (U.S. Forest Service)
Tom Ludwig sits smiling about his discovery among other U.S. Forest Service Passport in Time volunteers while unearthing the 31 inch Triceratops horn core continues. (U.S. Forest Service)

Paleontologist Barbara Beasley’s voice filled with excitement as she described a recent dinosaur find on the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our Passport in Time volunteers,” she said. “Mother Nature preserved and stored this treasure for more than 65 million years.”

Beasley led a group of 22 volunteers on a fossil excavation project at the Alkali Divide Paleontological Special Interest Area where volunteer Tom Ludwig found the nearly three-foot Triceratops horn.

The group was not expecting to find any large fossils at the site, so everyone brought only small bags to collect their findings. Called a micro-vertebrate accumulation by scientists, the site typically offers up fossils the size of a fist or smaller.

“This herbivorous dinosaur’s 31-inch brow horn is remarkably intact and very well preserved,” said Beasley. “All volunteers worked eagerly to completely unearth this paleo-prize.”

The plant-eating Triceratops – a skeletal mount has been on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History since 1905 – may have been 30 feet long, with two large brow horns and a smaller horn on its snout. When this creature died 65 million years ago during the late Cretaceous, eastern Wyoming was a tropical environment.

“It’s very exciting…applying everything I’ve learned,” said Tirzah Abbott, a first-time dino-digger, paleontology geo-database technician and recent Geology graduate from Beloit College in Wisconsin. “I’m excited to be part of the excavation and preparation (of this fossil).”

Passport in Time is a Forest Service volunteer archaeology, paleontology, and historic preservation program. Through this program, students and volunteers get the opportunity to go in the field and work shoulder-to-shoulder with professional Forest Service archaeologists, paleontologists and historians on a wide variety of activities throughout the U.S.

A human foot shows the size of the Triceratops horn core as volunteers continue to unearth the piece. (U.S. Forest Service)
A human foot shows the size of the Triceratops horn core as volunteers continue to unearth the piece. (U.S. Forest Service)
Category/Topic: Forestry