Rock of ages - Museum reveals fossil find in Bollinger County

Monday, January 31, 2005

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- The word is getting out on the best-kept secret in Bollinger County. Of course, when that secret weighs more than 1,000 pounds and is 67 million years old, no one should be surprised.

The Bollinger County Museum of Natural History unveiled a 1,000-pound chunk of bone bed on Friday that was excavated from the dinosaur fossil dig-site at Glenallen and carefully transported to the museum. In addition to the ancient find, the museum also received a grant from SBC totaling $14,000 that will be used to provide a live video-feed from the dig-site back to the museum. The dig-site at Glenallen is privately owned and isn't open to visitors.

"This will allow everyone to see things as they are working on them out there," said Eva Dunn, president of the museum board. "It's hard to imagine what they are doing out there when you are here in this building."

In addition to providing the live video-feed from the dig-site, the SBC Foundation gift will be used for technological advances at the museum including the purchase of 42-inch monitors to provide information about Bollinger County, its history and the culture of the area. Additionally, the grant will provide technology upgrades, including DSL internet access, and training for museum personnel.

SBC regional director Marsha Haskell presented the check to the museum at a ceremony Friday morning.

"This is really a dream come true for me," Haskell said. "When I was a kid, I only let my dad stop and get gas at Sinclair Stations. Other girls in the neighborhood had pink walls, I had green walls with green felt dinosaurs."

Haskell said her love for dinosaurs as a child made this grant particularly special for her to give. "Since dinosaurs are so big and this is a big project, I thought we needed a big check," Haskell said.

She said that SBC tries to give back to the communities they serve through their foundation. "This grant program is extremely difficult," Haskell said.

"There was some very tough competition to get this grant. Eva's hard work and vision struck a chord with our foundation and made the difference."

The museum opened last year in the building that was formerly the Arts and Sciences Building of the Will Mayfield College. In 1998, the Will Mayfield Foundation was formed to restore the building. Several different ideas were considered for the use of the building before the idea of turning it into a museum was accepted. The museum displays cultural, historic and natural history of the region. Restoration on the large structure is still underway.

The natural history sections of the museum are perhaps the most breathtaking. Bollinger County has been a hotbed of prehistoric discoveries since 1942 when a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey named Dan Stewart, or "Dinosaur Dan" as he prefers to be called, was walking in a ravine near Glenallen searching in the clay when he was approached by a boy who told him that he knew where some clay was.

The boy took Stewart back to the home of Lulu Chronister, who was digging a cistern. The geologist noticed fossils among the dig debris that he immediately recognized as dinosaur remains. A total of 14 vertebrae from the tailbone of a dinosaur were found in the clay near the well. Stewart reported the find to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., which agreed to purchase the bones from Chronister. She used the $50 check from the bones to buy a new cow.

In the 60 years since the discovery of the first fossils at the site, hundreds of other discoveries have been made. In recent years, the site has yielded Tyrannosaurus rex teeth, fossilized vegetation and the remains of prehistoric fish, crocodiles and other animals. The nearly 1,000-pound chunk is just the latest in a series of finds, but experts are excited about it nonetheless.

"There is stuff down in there that we don't even know what it is until we uncover it," said paleontologist Guy Darrough of the Missouri Ozark Dinosaur Project. "There are dinosaur vertebrae, scapulas, turtles, fish and vegetation. It will give us a look back at how Bollinger County looked 67 million years ago."

The block of clay and fossils is wrapped in aluminum foil and surrounded by plaster to keep it intact. Visitors to the museum can watch through glass as scientists work to expose more fossils in the clay. Darrough said that this chunk represents the most concentrated mass of bones yet found at the site.

Darrough is responsible for the many dinosaur exhibits at the museum. His next project will be the construction of a replica of the official dinosaur of Missouri, Hypsibema missouriensis, the species of the first fossils found in 1942. According to Darrough, the animal would have stood 35 feet long from nose to tail, 10 feet tall at its back and weighed about as much as an elephant.

Hypsibema missouriensis, a duckbilled hadrosaur, was declared the official dinosaur of Missouri last July.

As improvements to the museum continue to be made, Dunn and others in the community see the museum as a major draw for tourism.

"This is the perfect place for education," Dunn said. "You can't get everything from a book. Here you can get an image of what's going on and apply it to book work."

City board member Marian Hutchings said that the excellence of the museum is a reflection of the community that has produced it. "This city and this county grew from the earth," she said. "Our future and our progress belong to the earth. The city of Marble Hill is ready to serve the museum in any way we can."

State Rep. Rod Jetton explained how the museum has grown so quickly and given the area a statewide identity. "This is something that gives us an identity," Jetton said. "When people think of Bollinger County, they think of the museum and the dinosaur. It has been a self-made thing. Since I've been in Bollinger County, I haven't seen something bring this many people together."

In addition to the Missouri Dinosaur exhibit, the museum also has a Lewis and Clark exhibit, an American Indian exhibit, local civil war history and artifacts, a fossil prep lab and Will Mayfield College memorabilia. The museum is on Mayfield Drive in Marble Hill and is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon until 4:30 or by appointment at 238-1174.

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