Office of University Relations
SDSM& T News
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Phone: ( 605) 394- 6082/ 2554 • Fax: ( 605) 394- 6177
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
( October 29, 1998)
WHITESTONE RESIDENT DIGS FOR FOSSILS ALONG THE MISSOURI RIVER
IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Kirsten Merker of Whitestone spent two weeks this summer in South Dakota digging for fossils of prehistoric creatures from the Late Cretaceous period. Scientists from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology ( SDSM& T) Museum of Geology led the field dig for marine turtles, mosasaurs, plesiosaurs and other Late Cretaceous animals at an important paleontological site along the Missouri River in central South Dakota.
Discoveries during the first week of the field dig session along the Missouri River included a bison skull estimated to be 20,000 years old and Xiphactinus, a bulldog face fish from the Niobrara Formation 80- 85 million years ago. The excavations were conducted in an area where the SDSM& T Museum of Geology previously made the important scientific discovery of Archelon, a giant marine turtle that lived toward the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. The shell of this largest known sea turtle measures 12 feet across.
Numerous sea reptiles, especially mosasaurs, have been found in the area along the Missouri River where SDSM& T paleontologists have conducted field digs. Sea life at the end of the dinosaur age was dominated by mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. Mosasaurs were giant, large- toothed marine reptiles that are distant relatives of modern- day lizards. They inhabited the shallow seas that covered the Great Plains from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic during the Late Cretaceous period between 90 to 65 million years ago.
“ These ferocious mosasaurs were top dog in the water,” says Dr. James Martin, SDSM& T Museum of Geology Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and Professor of Geology. “ A T- rex wouldn’t stand a chance in the water against a mosasaur.”
A previous dig at this Missouri River site yielded an especially significant discovery of baby mosasaur remains found among the pelvic area of the mother specimen. This is the first definite evidence that these lizard- like creatures gave live birth to their young.
SDSM& T’s field paleontology program attracts students, teachers and volunteers from across the nation each summer. The public can participate on a limited, space- available basis. For information about future field digs, individuals should contact Dr. Philip Bjork, SDSM& T Museum of Geology, at 1- 800- 544- 8162, ext. 2467, or via email: pbjork@ msmailgw. sdsmt. edu.
Photo Caption: Kirsten Merker of Whitestone digs through soil and rock along the banks of the Missouri River in her search for fossils from the Late Cretaceous period. ( Photo Courtesy of SDSM& T University & Public Relations)
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