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Home > Dig It! > Digging for Dinos, Pt.1
Dinosaur over an old typewriter with words, Paleo-Bites BlogDiggin’ for Dinos Part 1: Dinosaur Digging is Not for Sissies

When I talk to people about how I dig for dinosaurs in Wyoming, I usually get one
of three reactions:

  “Wow – that’s…interesting. (Translation: “You are one weird chick”)

  “Wow – that’s so cool!!” (Genuine enthusiasm and objective interest)

  “Wow – I’ve always wanted to do that!” (And they mean it)

Digging dinosaurs is serious business. One misplaced strike or stab can ding or destroy a bone that has minded its own business under the earth for 145 million years. I know from personal experience how heartbreaking this can be.

Case in point: While hammer-and-chiseling through matrix that is second in hardness only to concrete, I found an Allosaurus claw. But my digging around it had knocked off about ¼ inch of the tip. I spent the next 45 minutes sifting through piles of rock and loose matrix searching for it. I never found that teensy morsel, and in the process learned another crucial lesson: always pay attention to where you toss the dirt and rock around a bone. You never know when you might need to find a needle in a haystack.

Terry the Great UDO HunterOf course, the tiny bit of the tip was able to be reconstructed in the prep lab and the claw eventually went to a happy collector in the States. But that experience taught me to be more patient and attentive. Sound good? Well, digging for Jurassic dinosaurs isn’t like how it appears in the movies. I call the adventure “treasure-hunting on a chain gang” for good reason.

Here’s a typical day:

Arrive at the digsite around 8am. Temperature is about 50 degrees F. Sweatshirt definitely needed. Gloves too. Grab your bucket with the hammer, chisels, big knives, exacto knives, glue and seat cushion – and don’t forget water. The high desert air sucks every drop of moisture out of you.

Find your dig spot. Sit down on a cushion that barely shields your butt from the jagged ground, and start digging – patiently and attentively. Start with the stab and twist motion using a big knife. If the dirt and rock is too tough, tap-tap-tap through the layers with a hammer and screwdriver until you find something interesting. After a couple hours, every muscle in your dominant hand, arm and shoulder is vibrating.

Around noon, it’s time for lunch. You’d shed your sweatshirt earlier as the sun rose in the sky, and the temperature is now a brisk 95 degrees. You swore you’d never, ever ingest meat by-products like bologna, but a bologna sandwich with mustard - and dusted with the matrix from your hands  - has never tasted better. Or crunchier. Sugary soda? It’s nectar.Lunch time at the Paleo Diner

Get back to work. You head back to your dig area with a full stomach. So far, you’ve found about 12 UDO’s (‘unidentified dinosaur objects’) and only hit your thumb with the hammer once. You’re ready to go, confident that this is the day that you just might tap-tap-tap into that Allosaurus specimen you've been dreaming of finding.

Never surrender. Five hours and 17 more UDO’s later, it’s 104 degrees with no breeze and no shade. You are covered with black soot from ancient, carbonized plant material and the relentless, biting flies are enamored with your aroma. You’re tired but you keep stabbing and pounding –and then you find a Theropod claw from the king of Jurassic beasts itself – Allosaurus!

And then you notice the very tip of the claw is missing. It’s time to start crawling around in the piles of dirt and rock, sifting it by the thimble-full. Oh well, maybe you’ll find your big Allosaurus skeleton tomorrow.

Check out the Bones & Teeth Gallery

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