Area 51

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Area 51

#1  Postby theropod » Apr 27, 2017 7:31 pm

All,

As some of you may, or may not, be aware I was the executive director of a small natural history museum in the northwest corner of South Dakota. Early in the year 2000 the board of directors thought it was a good idea to sell a part of our collection to a well known commercial fossil dealer from within the state, and I didn't think this was a good thing so I resigned. My career in paleontology was effectively ended by this move, but I would do so again in a heartbeat. I feel selling fossils from a non-profit institution is about as unethical as it gets. Try to understand that paleontology consumed my life for many many years, and I was seen as guilty by association with the fiasco that was the museum. Instead of real science the museum is now a creotard bastion of ignorance. Where once we studied depositional bias and preservational selection it is now a God-Done-It playground.

Late in the summer of 1999 I took the retained paleontologist for the Standing Rock nation to a site I had found while doing survey work. All that entailed was walking slowly and taking notes, and not collecting anything. The site lies on land owned by the Standing Rock people, but at the time was leased to a member of the board. I have no idea of that status now, but the land is still property of the tribe. This site is probably unlike any other in the entire Hell Creek formation for several reasons. Foremost among these is the sheer numbers of fossils present. Every extant non-avian dinosaur is represented, but that is only a small part of the unique qualities. Juvenile Edmontosaurus skeletal elements reside among fully adult examples. At least three species of theropods are represented, and this is not limited to shed teeth. Ankylosaurus and Triceratops specimens litter the surface. Turtles and Crocs are everywhere.

A couple weeks ago I was bored and fired up Google Earth on my phone just to have a look at this world class site. To my astonishment it appeared no work had taken place at the bone bed, and I expanded my viewing of the area. Just to the north of the bone bed I found several pieces of large earth moving equipment, and it appeared that road construction was taking place out across the barren landscape. This alarmed me as the idea of a road being punched across this mass mortality site was horrifying.

After a good deal of research I discovered that the tribal paleontologist had retired, and that the tribe was starting their own museum. It took a good deal of "digging" but I uncovered the name of the director of this new effort. A lady named Sonya Whitemountain is heading the efforts. After a long phone call, and a few emails, I discovered that the paleontologist I escorted to "Area 51" never informed anyone of our visit, and the site was unknown to the tribe. I provided her with GPS coordinates, the same screen grab of the outcrop as shared here and detailed instructions on how to drive right to the site across the prairie. The only time I ever got my old '92 4X4 Ranger stuck was during that survey trip, and there are places one should avoid if at all possible, like hidden ditches in the prairie grasses.

I am sharing this because after nearly 18 years of worry about the fate of this amazing place I can finally rest a little easier. Ms Whitemountain is taking her team to the site early next week, and has expressed in no uncertain terms how grateful she is that I have kept this place in the back of my mind for so long, and care enough to try to protect it. Now I must hold out hope that "someone" hasn't stolen important fossils from the site, an it remains a place impossible to traverse without stepping on latest Cretaceous fauna fossils.

Area-51_01.jpg
Area 51, Upper Hell Creek Formation, Corson County, South Dakota, USA
Area-51_01.jpg (1.45 MiB) Viewed 1389 times


The concentration of fossils lie between the two grass "islands" in the bowl shaped outcrop capped by the somber layers. The fossils seem to be concentrated in the whitish layers of bentonite.

therphlangtiny.jpg
A Very Small Theropod Phalanges
therphlangtiny.jpg (102.46 KiB) Viewed 1389 times


This bone is more than likely a hand digit from a Dromeosaur, and is but one of many theropod skeletal elements lying about.

had_juv_jaw.jpg
Edmontosaurus annectens juvenile left manible
had_juv_jaw.jpg (414.48 KiB) Viewed 1389 times


Here is the left mandible from a very young Edmontosaurus. To my knowledge this mix of adult and young Edmontosaurus annectens fossils has never been found in the Hell Creek. The adult counterpart to this bone is over half a meter long.

I cannot express the level of closure I feel to know that after so many years of worry the site I called "Area 51" is finally getting the attention it deserves. Maybe someday I can visit the new Standing Rock museum and see the wonders that remain hidden in the matrix. There's no telling what will be discovered and how much about the very latest Cretaceous we will learn.

My initial impression of the site is that these dinosaurs, and other creatures, were victims of a quicksand/bog.

RS
Last edited by theropod on Apr 27, 2017 8:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Area 51

#2  Postby tuco » Apr 27, 2017 7:46 pm

I like Whitemountain :)
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Re: Area 51

#3  Postby crank » Apr 28, 2017 1:27 am

Tragedy and good fortune. Why id your paleontological reputation tarred by resigning from the as it was turning away from the science? It should have gotten a boost.
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Re: Area 51

#4  Postby Manticore » Apr 28, 2017 9:30 am

Well done theropod. The world needs more people like you.
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Re: Area 51

#5  Postby theropod » Apr 28, 2017 10:25 am

crank wrote:Tragedy and good fortune. Why id your paleontological reputation tarred by resigning from the as it was turning away from the science? It should have gotten a boost.


Good question. It's a guilt by association thing. As executive director some people think I should have been able to turn the board of directors away from their plans, of which I had no idea. There is also a cutthroat culture among many paleontologist where eliminating competition is seen as a good thing. Think about the hired paleontologist for the Standing Rock people. What possible reason could there be for him to withhold this information from them? Also remember that "Sue", the Tyrannosaurus rex (also my profile pict), was found less than 50 miles from from the museum. She brought millions of dollars. Then there was the bile I vented towards some of the members of the board which I am sure was repaid at every turn behind my back. The buyer of the fossils, now, claims to not even remember me. Considering I spent an entire day at his facilities getting a behind-the-scenes tour when he was trying to sell us display casts this is hilarious. It could also be that I have been very vocal, and public, in criticism of what I consider bad science by well known "giants" in the field, such as countering the scavenger T. rex notion, with the Edmontosaurus in Denver having a healed bite mark that could only have been done by a T. rex. I also have a history of pointing out double standards in the policies of major organizations such as the SVP, where some big wheels feel that important fossils should be the property of the state even if found on private land. Thise big wheels don't even want amateurs to be allowed to look for invertebrate fossils on public land, even though those same amateurs have made major contributions to the field. I vehemently oppose this ivory tower elitist attitude, and have made this well known on several paleo mailing lists. Yes, I have been the same hard nosed bastard for a long long time, and it has cost me, but I will be damned if I compromise my ethics for personal gain. It looks like on this one point I am having the last laugh.

RS
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Re: Area 51

#6  Postby crank » Apr 28, 2017 3:42 pm

People really are shit. I want to transfer to a better species but the right one hasn't landed yet. The behavior of the hired paleo guy is inexplicable to me, but then much behavior of people is inexplicable to me. I don't know if that is a positive in my favor or a negative.
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Re: Area 51

#7  Postby theropod » Apr 28, 2017 4:15 pm

crank wrote:People really are shit. I want to transfer to a better species but the right one hasn't landed yet. The behavior of the hired paleo guy is inexplicable to me, but then much behavior of people is inexplicable to me. I don't know if that is a positive in my favor or a negative.


Yeah, I would name names, but I can't afford to defend myself from law suits. Considering that when I showed this person "Area 51" we talked about how this could be something that expands our understanding of the Hell Creek enormously. So, nearly 18 years have passed and the weather has taken its toll. What remains hidden in the matrix is still protected if looters haven't raped the place. Perhaps something happened between him and the tribe. Who knows? I feel such a sense of relief now that the true owners have the information they should have been given long ago.

RS
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Re: Area 51

#8  Postby proudfootz » Apr 28, 2017 10:05 pm

That is a fascinating story with a happy ending (it sounds like).

Great that you kept tabs on things and took the opportunity to get this information to the new museum.
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Re: Area 51

#9  Postby Dark energy » Apr 28, 2017 10:37 pm

mashalah,that is good tale.
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