Where are dinosaur dig sites usually located?
Dinosaur remains can be found worldwide from the barren deserts of Mongolia to the cold slopes of the Antarctic mountains. This is because, at the time dinosaurs roamed the land, all of todays landmasses were connected or close by, allowing dinosaurs to freely move about.
Still, all dinosaur dig sites have something in common: The action of natural or sometimes human agents has eroded the land, exposing the buried fossil-bearing rock. In many cases, the best place to discover the first bones that signal a major find is where these erosion processes continue today. In the Gobi Desert, the passing of another sandstorm means a fresh batch of bones will be waiting on the surface. Bases of sea cliffs, where the water batters the rock during high tides or storms, will have new fossils exposed. Areas of heavy downpours, flash flooding, and excavation in a commercial quarry are all good places to find the bones that will trigger the start of the formal dig process.
How are dinosaur fossils distinguishable from other fossils?
There are a number of ways to find out if your fossil is from a dinosaur. If you have the desire, there are numerous fossil guides and books to help you determine the identity of your fossil. In this approach, you will have to acquire some knowledge of taxonomy (the classification of plants and animals), as well as a general knowledge of biology and geology. This is a good way to learn for yourself, but it can be time- consuming and overwhelming for the beginner.
Another way is to have a more experienced fossil collector help with the identification process. Try a local fossil collecting club (and you may want to join, too).
Also, a local university or nearby natural history museum usually has someone who will help identify the fossil for you, although sometimes a fee may be charged for this service. If they cant identify the fossil, they may be able to suggest someone who can help.
If your fossil does not correspond to anything known, it might be a new dinosaur species. In this case, your finding is very important to scientific knowledge, and you may be asked to donate the specimen to the museum or university for their collection not only for the collection but for additional scientific study.
Your name might even be used as the basis for the scientific name of the new species. Also, you might be asked to assist with further excavation at the dig site.
What are some examples in which amateurs found dinosaur sites?
One good example is the site of what is now the Mygatt-Moore Quarry near Fruita, Colorado. It was discovered on a late March hike in 1981 by Grand Junction, Colorado, residents Pete and Marilyn Mygatt and J.D. and Vanetta Moore. They were amateur rock and fossil hunters who had cabin fever that day and decided to go for a hike near the Utah border. During a lunch break, Pete Mygatt noticed a rock and picked it up. It split apart, revealing a partial tail vertebra of what was later identified as an Apatosaurus. This site is now named the Mygatt-Moore Quarry, and has yielded eight species of dinosaurs, including Mymoorapelta, a small armored dinosaur, and the first ankylosaur from the Jurassic period found in North America.
Another example is Rob Gaston, a local Fruita, Colorado, artist who found some of the earliest dinosaur tracks in western Colorado. His discoveries led to the discovery of the Gaston Quarry, where the Utahraptor was subsequently found.
Still another find: Christopher Wolfe, an eight-year-old third grader from Phoenix, Arizona, discovered the remains of the oldest known horned dinosaur during a trip to western New Mexico. As he climbed up a hill, he was attracted to a blackish purple object on the ground, which turned out to be a fossilized piece of the small horn that protected the dinosaurs eye. The rest of the fossilized remains included jaw parts, teeth, brain case, and other pieces. The dinosaur was approximately 90 million years old the oldest known horned dinosaur to that date and was named Zuniceratops christopheri after its discoverer.