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Dinosaur Hunting a Century after the Gilded Age: A Modern Perspective from the Field

T. L. Clarey
Delta College, University Center, MI 48710

The great dinosaur rush during the Gilded Age (1870s–1890s) was fueled by competition between rival scientists, principally E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh. Dinosaur bones were suddenly worth money, prompting the appearance of numerous amateur collectors across the American West. Tales of government corruption, womanizing and scientific blunders were commonplace, making the late 19th century sound a lot like the late 20th century. Today, amateurs remain the principal means of dinosaur exploration and discovery. Modern paleontologists can still get caught up in hoaxes, such as the recent Archaeorapter affair. Scientific reputations can still be made with a timely discovery. The sale of Tyrannosaurus “Sue” for over $8 million has again placed dinosaur bones in high-priced demand. Dinosaurs are being bought, sold, and marketed by big business.

Participation as an amateur at dig sites can still be both rewarding and eventful. Recent discoveries with theWyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, and with the Museum of the Rockies near Choteau, Montana, illustrate the field techniques of the modern paleontologist. The extraction of bones with simple tools and the use of burlap and plaster casts are methods developed over a century ago. Financial reward in these programs is replaced by the thrill of discovery and the opportunity to make a contribution to science. Stegosaurs, brontosaurs and an occasional new species can be just a few brush strokes away. In some ways, history does repeat.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90900©2001 AAPG Eastern Section Meeting, Kalamazoo, Michigan