A group of scientists digging in Black Mesa, Oklahoma, over the weekend uncovered dinosaur fossils in a new, previously untouched quarry.
Rich Cifelli, presidential professor of zoology at the University of Oklahoma, led a team of 15 scientists, as well as members of the Whitten-Newman Foundation, Native Explorers, and ExplorOlogy—the latter two are programs designed to inspire interest in the sciences among Native American college students and at-risk K-12 youth, respectively—in a weekend-long reconnaissance dig to re-examine old fossil localities and identify sites for future exploration.
Black Mesa is a mesa that extends from the Southwest into the Oklahoma panhandle. According to the expedition handbook: “Abundant dinosaur fossils have been recovered from the Triassic and Jurassic strata in the area and a dinosaur trackway is located in Carrizo Creek to the north of the mesa.
“Since 1935 the location has provided geologists and paleontologists rare opportunities to examine Jurassic and Triassic rocks and the dinosaur bones in them. More than eighteen tons of camptosaurus, stegosaurus, brontosaurus, diplodocus, and edmontosaurus bones have been quarried at Black Mesa. A string of allosaurus footprints can be seen clearly along Carrizo Creek just north of the mesa itself.”
But the localities hadn’t been touched since John Stovall dug there in the 1930s. So scientists revisited those sites, as well as some others, newly available via the purchase of private land by the Whitten-Newman Foundation.
“We quickly gained a great appreciation for Stovall and his ability to find fossils out there at all,” Kent Smith, associate professor of anatomy at Oklahoma State University-Center for Health Sciences and co-founder of Native Explorers, said. “There’s a lot of sloping debris and a little bit of vegetation, so it’s not great exposure. You’re trying to find bone amongst rock, amongst cacti. It’s not easy.”
Late in the day Saturday scientists began examining a rock formation and found dinosaur bone. They continued to uncover more bone, which they suspect to be saurapod vertebrae, as the day wore on. It will be processed at the University of Oklahoma, and scientists will continue to dig at Black Mesa this summer.
In June, Native Explorers and ExplorOgoly will each take a batch of students to the site to assist in the research and, hopefully, whet their appetite for science and technology. To learn more about these programs, tune into This Land Live on Thursday, April 19 at 10 a.m. when we chat with the executive director of Native Explorers, Jeff Hargrave.
—Holly Wall, News Editor