Article, Author Interviews

Locations of Dinosaur Digs

The following questions were answered by dinosaur expert Don Lessem, paleontologist Tim Rowe, and paleontologist Bill Hammer.

Q: Where have most of the dinosaur remains been found in the world?
A: The U.S. is number one in kinds of dinosaurs found, though the single best place in numbers of species found is Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada, where some 37 kinds of dinosaurs have been found. Mongolia and Argentina are now sources of many interesting dinosaurs. (Don Lessem)

Q: Where do you think is the best place for finding dinosaur fossils? What tools and techniques do you use to find dinosaurs?
A: The best place to look for fossils are in badlands and deserts where there are no plants or buildings covering the bones and the rocks are of dinosaur age  like in Montana and Utah. Bring a pick and shovel and awl or screwdriver if you go on a dig. The Dinosaur Society, a charity I help, can send you a list of places to dig with scientists. Their number is 1-800-DINODON. Their tools are crowbars and drills and even dynamite to remove the rock from the fossils. Then, when they get close to the bones, they use picks and, when closer, tiny awls, even toothbrushes and brooms. You cover the bones, with a lot of dirt still on them, in plaster and burlap bandages and haul it back to the museum for fine cleaning in the winter. (Don Lessem)

Q: In what state can you find a lot of dinosaur bones?
A: Dinosaurs are found in 35 states and on every continent, wherever rocks from dinosaur time on ancient land are now on the surface. The best dinosaur-searching places are deserts and badlands out West. (Don Lessem)

Q: What kind of dinosaurs lived in southern New Mexico?
A: There are several kinds of dinosaurs that lived in southern New Mexico in the late Cretaceous. A big ceratopsian, probably triceratops, and a big carnosaur like Tyrannosaurus rex have both been collected. And if these guys were around, there must have been duck-billed dinosaurs, ankylosaurs, birds, and possibly others as well. (Tim Rowe)

Q: I've heard that dinosaur bones have been discovered in Oregon and California. Can you tell me if they have names yet? Also, have any dinosaur bones been found in Vermont?
A: Just scraps of dinosaurs have been found  and only in the last 20 years  in Oregon and California. They are probably bits of a duckbill and an ankylosaur, an armored dinosaur. None that I know of have been found in Vermont. Vermont was underwater in much of dinosaur time and dinosaurs didn't live in water. (Don Lessem)

Q: Have you found any dinosaur bones in Austin, Texas? About how far did you dig to find the dinosaur bones?
A: So far no one has found any dinosaurs here in Austin. But we have found some dinosaur tracks which are in the middle of one of the city's parks. They are from an ostrich-sized carnivorous dinosaur. Most of the rocks around here were deposited in the ocean, so we mostly find marine reptiles like mosasaurs and plesiosaurs inside the city. Strictly speaking, these are not dinosaurs but they are still very exciting to find. We found all of them by looking for bones lying on the surface of the ground. Only after we found some pieces did we know where to dig. The plesiosaur skeleton took about six weeks to dig up. The hole it came out of was not very deep but it took a long time because the rock it was in was very hard. (Tim Rowe)

Q: Are there any places to look for dinosaur fossils in Texas?
A: There are many fossil bones and footprints. Near Dallas, in Mill Sap, a boy found two duckbill skeletons. And outside a Motorola factory in Fort Worth, another boy found parts of an armored dinosaur. I've dug for dinosaurs in Post, near Lubbock. Some of the best fossil footprints are on the Paluxy River in the center of the state. (Don Lessem)

Q: Has a dinosaur ever been discovered near Rye, New York?
A: There are dinosaur bones in Connecticut. And a lot of dinosaur footprints. You might want to go to Rocky Hill, Connecticut, some day and see the hundreds of dinosaur tracks there. The museum is closed for renovations but you can bring vegetable oil and a big bag of plaster and make your own cast of a dinosaur footprint if you want to keep one! (Don Lessem)

Q: Have dinosaurs ever been found in North Carolina?
A: There were scraps of dinosaurs found in North Carolina, but I don't know where you are in the state. The Black Creek Formation in North Carolina had a big, T. rex-like meat-eater and a duckbill, both about 70 million years old, found in 1979, but they were just little scraps of bone that had washed out to an ancient waterway. (Don Lessem)

Q: I would like to dig for dinosaurs in the Gobi Desert. Can you give me advice?
A: It isn't cheap or easy to get to the Gobi Desert, but it is worth the trip. I wanted to go ever since I was nine, when I read the adventures of Roy Chapman Andrews, the real-life Indiana Jones. His team found the first dinosaur nests, when they were in the Gobi 70 years ago. I finally got to go there about eight years ago. It was a long trip. You fly to Beijing, then take a train for two days to Ulan Bator, the only big city in Mongolia. From there you take a little plane to near the Flaming Cliffs, then rent a jeep and drive. It is a beautiful fiery orange canyonland. Sandstorms can blow for days. And in the sand you can still find many dinosaur eggs and skeletons from oviraptors and protoceratops and many other dinosaurs. It's definitely worth the trip! (Don Lessem)

Q: Did dinosaurs live in Kansas?
A: No dinosaurs in Kansas, I'm afraid, since the rocks near the surface from the Cretaceous  the last dinosaur time  are from a time when Kansas was under water. But there are some great pterosaur, or flying reptile, bones, including the biggest ever, Quetzalcoatlus, which had a 40-foot wingspan, as big as a fighter plane! (Don Lessem)

Q: Were there ever any dinosaur fossils found in Wisconsin?
A: No dinosaurs in Wisconsin, since it was underwater during much of dinosaur time. (Don Lessem)

Q: Where in the Midwest is the best place to find dinosaur bones (besides the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago)?
A: The Midwest was underwater in much of dinosaur time so I actually don't know of any good dinosaur-digging places there, I'm sorry to say. I do hear there are many other fossils to be found, such as the world's biggest mastodons in Nebraska, but these are from after the dinosaurs. Kansas is good for dinosaur-aged sea and air reptiles. (Don Lessem)

Q: Do you know of any places in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut specialize in dinosaurs?
A: There are dinosaur footprints in Kidde State Park in New Jersey, but I've never been there. Aside from the American Museum of Natural History, I don't know any other resources for you in New York. Connecticut is full of fossil footprints, and Yale's Peabody Museum is a great repository. Its emeritus paleontologist, John Ostrom, named deinonychus and is still very active there. Dinosaur State Park south of Hartford off Route 84 is very interesting, though temporarily closed for repairs. (Don Lessem)

Q: How did you know to look for dinosaur fossils in Antarctica? How did you know exactly where to look?
A: I actually did not go to Antarctica just to look for dinosaurs. I was there looking for reptiles that lived early in the Triassic period, before the first dinosaurs evolved. We had found many fossils of these earlier reptiles on previous expeditions to Antarctica. However, we always look in new places for different types of fossils and that is how the dinosaurs were discovered. We search in areas where there are sedimentary rocks that have been deposited by ancient rivers, because that is where you usually find buried skeletons that have become fossils. It was along an ancient river channel buried in mudstone that we found the Antarctic dinosaurs. Now you know where to look, whether you are in Antarctica or any place else. (Bill Hammer)

Q: Where are velociraptors found?
A: We find them in Mongolia, the other side of the planet from here. But they also probably came to North America's West or had a very near cousin here, we just don't know yet. That's the case with many dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous period, about 80 million to 65 million years ago. (Don Lessem)

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