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June 25, 2014

In Search of the Ancient Past Part 2

Tom McLaughlin

South Phillips County, Montana – The trip south from Malta, Montana, took an hour and a half over gravel roads in our mighty Yukon. There was mile after mile of sagebrush and cows as we travelled to our second dinosaur dig. Suddenly, the hills began to rise as we went from flatlands to hill tops in a matter of minutes.


We kept going up and then meandered down into a valley where the homestead lay. It was a smallish house with two bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen and another room downstairs for the boy. The home was nestled next to the bottom of the hills with a wind break on all four sides, made up of the tree covered slopes. How they got the modern house there was, and still is, a mystery, one of many we would discover.


Our first stop was the "Castle," where several pillars of sandstone stood about 15 feet high. They were staggered close to one another about five or six in the group. To get there, we travelled over cow pastures and followed trails. What they were, how they were formed and why they there is a mystery to everyone. But, there they were in the middle of this field.


Our next stop was where a small girl of nine found a triceratops horn. It has been embedded in a small down fall of about 10 feet. It is now housed in the Malta Museum. My wife Suriani, daughter Mary, son-in-law Cody and the rest of the team scampered up the cliff looking for pieces of the animal while I was stuck at the bottom with my three year old son Dzul. I didn't mind, as both of us searched for remains of the animal. Everybody was finding pieces except me, while Dzul played in a spot of white sand, oblivious to any dinosaur remains.


We drove on to the next spot where we were assured to find some dinosaur remains. Here, again, was another down fall with a mysterious hill just above it. Looking for remains, we immediately found some, another triceratops. Its bones were scattered just below another down fall that contained seashells, thousands of them. Some looked like they had just come from the beach at Ocean City.


What I surmise is that the triceratops met his end at the side of the vast inland sea where the Great Salt Lake is the only reminder. We found hundreds of fossils, some the size of our hand, in this small area. Others climbed up the hill and observed bones, much too big and heavy to remove by hand.


We were told that some palaeontologists had visited the area and decided that the animal was just in too many pieces to move. Whether they were from a university or a private company was not ascertained.


From what I could gather from bits and pieces of information from both sites, the owner of the land will rent out acreage for dinosaur hunting. They will receive a fee. If something is found, then they will split the profit 50-50 with owner of the ranch.


Each site had digs in progress. Again, from what I gather, the dinosaur is covered in plaster and the site buried to prevent poaching by others. When they can, a team is sent in and the dinosaur is uncovered and treated with the hammer and pick. It is then carefully removed.


Ranchers are reluctant to let just any one on their land to search for the specimens. Great secrecy is involved as to how much they charge for rent of the land, the items found and the cut given to the museum. We were very lucky to have had these two experiences.


...Life is good. . . . .


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