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Found 1 result

  1. How an Amateur Collector Changed Paleontology Forever To those of The Fossil Forum, I wish to share with you the story of Maiasaura peeblesorum and Marion Brandvold, both good mothers. Maiasaura was discovered forty years ago in June of 1978; this is the month and year of the Maiasaura. Marion and her son, David Trexler, found fossils fascinating long before Jurassic Park popularized dinosaurs. They would often take a vehicle out and go prospecting in their backyard geologic formation known as the Two Medicine. One hot summer evening when walking back to the vehicle, Marion took a small detour and came upon some tiny fossilized bones. In 1937, the Trexlers had opened a rock and jewelry store, and over the years had created a successful jewelry manufacturing and wholesale business along with their ranching interest. However, Marion's heart was always with the land and the animals, and when her husband passed away, she opened a retail store for her merchandise rather than try to keep up with the wholesale business. That way, she still had time for the ranching and rock hunting that she loved. Marion and David had discovered a partial dinosaur in 1971, and they traveled the State of Montana to compare it to all the wonderful previous discoveries they had read about that had been made in Montana. To their surprise, the only dinosaur on display in the entire State was in a little museum in the basement of the high school in Ekalaka, Montana. It had been assembled by a couple of ranchers who had worked with paleontologists from elsewhere who had come to the State, collected, and left. Chagrined that nothing was left behind when professional work was done, they decided to start a small museum in the back of the family store. The goal was to display a dinosaur skeleton from their local area. After all, if ranchers from Ekalaka could do it, so could they. As far as professional training was concerned, Marion had to rely on her familiarity with the ecology of the modern world, as she had no formal education on the subject. However, a ranch foreman when she was young had taught her the art of tracking, and had shown her how each organism interacted with other organisms and its environment. So, when looking for fossil skeletons, Marion expected to see very young and very old animal pieces, but not much in-between. On the fateful evening mentioned previously, Marion, Dave, and Dave's wife, Laurie, were out collecting what they believed to be a fairly complete duckbilled dinosaur skeleton. It is a long, tedious job collecting all the bones present in a dinosaur, and they had uncovered 15 or so at that point. As tools were being put away, Marion went for a little walk, and when Dave and Laurie caught up with her, she was sitting on a small mound of dirt with a big smile on her face. She said, "look what I found!" She was holding several baby dinosaur vertebrae. Within a few minutes, they had found many more, and Dave had found a piece of a jaw with obviously duckbilled dinosaur teeth attached. However, the entire jaw section could be covered by a nickel! They had a baby dinosaur to go with their adult in the museum. Bill Clemens, a mammal paleontologist from Berkely, had stopped in Marion's shop on his way to dig on fossil fish with some colleagues, and was impressed with what had been done in creating a fossil museum without any formal training. At the fish site, he encouraged Jack Horner, then a fossil preparator at Princeton, and Jack's friend Bob Makela, a high school teacher from Rudyard, Montana, to stop at Marion's shop and see the displays. A few days later, Jack and Bob left the fish site and visited Marion's rock shop and museum. Jack introduced himself to Marion, and for the next few hours, they had a wonderful time going over the specimens Marion had on display. Jack then asked if she had anything else, and she showed him a couple of the vertebrae she had picked up from the baby site. Jack's interest was immediately piqued, and he asked if she had more. Marion directed him across the street to where Dave was reassembling the baby bones they had collected. Jack realized immediately that Marion and Dave had something they didn't understand. He asked, "do you know what you have here?", and Dave replied, "Obviously not, since you are so excited." The concept of babies and old animals dying and being preserved in the fossil record, it turned out, was only partially correct. While that cycle probably did occur, baby bones were generally not preserved in the fossil record. The bones Bob and Jack were staring at turned out to be the first baby dinosaur remains known from North America. Jack asked to be allowed to borrow the fossils in order to write them up in a formal publication. The bones were carefully wrapped and placed in a coffee can, and Jack transported them to Princeton. A visit to the site was also in order, and Marion and Dave took Jack and Bob out to the site. Dave also showed Jack a poorly preserved skull that Laurie had discovered, and Jack offered to try to remove it and clean it up for display in Marion's museum. However, after a few years and the specimen was recovered and prepared, it turned out to be the type skull for Maiasaura, and Laurie donated it to Museum of the Rockies, where Jack was working by then. Baby dinosaurs together in a nest past hatching showed a totally different picture of what dinosaurs were thought to be. Jack returned for many years, and eventually the Museum of the Rockies purchased the land where the babies were discovered. The area has become a mecca for paleontological research. The discovery of all this led to a massive shift in the view paleontologist and indeed science as a whole had for extinct animals and modern reptiles. A realization occurred that dinosaurs were truly living, breathing, majestic animals who cared for their young, much like the life we often see around us today. Hungry and thirsty, often looking for a mate, just trying to stay alive in an unforgiving world were the dinosaurs. Far from terrible lizards, they were much like animals and we humans are today. All this came from Marion’s tiny little find. It was her tiny find which led to a surge of interest and public attention. It was her tiny find which started Jack Horner’s career. It was her tiny find that indirectly caused Spielberg to help create Jurassic Park which in turn inspired many into paleontology and many more into other sciences. Those she indirectly inspired have contributed a near inconceivable amount to mankind through science. They range from medical researchers curing diseases, to those looking for extraterrestrial life, and all the way down to myself. A great many started their interest in the sciences with an early love of fossils and dinosaurs. A love Marion Branvold started and continues through her past contribution. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet her and she passed away in 2014, at the age of 102. Over the course of my short time in paleontology, I had the honor to stand where her tiny find was made. As the search for more discoveries continues I have been privileged to search with both Jack Horner and Dave Trexler. In the great quest for knowledge, she played her part well, now it is for us to carry on with the next act. What a massive contribution from an amateur and so tiny a find. As others ogle over the next major discovery, keep all this in mind and tell us more of your own tiny find. Eric P. Made with great assistance by David Trexler
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