BISMARCK Imagine moving tens of thousands of fossils of all sizes.
That's the job going on at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck where the North Dakota State Fossil Collection and the Paleontology Laboratory are being moved into the center's expansion.
The work on moving the fossil collection began late last month, said John Hoganson, state paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey.
The Highgate Mastodon is being prepared for its move into the Governor’s Gallery in the North Dakota Heritage Center expansion, shown in this photo by Brian R. Austin, from the State Historical Society of North Dakota. In the photo are, from the left, Bryan Turnbow, preparator, Jeff Person, paleontologist, and at far right, Amanda Person, paleontologist.
Participants search for fossils during this dig last summer at the Pembina Gorge site near Walhalla where the complete backbone of an 80-million-year-old mosasaur, a marine reptile, was recovered. Another public fossil dig will be held at this site in August.
"We have about three, or four weeks to move everything, he said last week.
That move, he said, involves "tens of thousands" of fossils of all sizes. He said the fossils range in sizes from huge ones to some very small ones like snails and clams. Hired individuals and volunteers are helping with the move.
Hoganson said the new Paleontology Laboratory and fossil collection area including offices are quadruple the size of the facilities that have been used in the Heritage Center for past years.
The Paleontology Lab and fossil collection now are being located in the far east part of the expansion in the level directly below the new Governors Gallery, a gallery that will have temporary and traveling exhibits.
"All the (fossil) collections are on the bottom floor," Hoganson said.
This past winter, Hoganson said, they spent much of the time working on writing text and developing exhibit plans for the new Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time that is in the first phase of the expansion to open.
Kim Jondahl, communications and education director for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, said the doors of the expansion will open Sept. 1 and the grand opening for the Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time will be Oct. 12.
The Sept. 1 opening will include the Northern Lights Lobby, new hallway exhibits, a new Great Plains Theater, and the Hub of History with information kiosks and visitor information, Jondahl said. She said an outside area called the Pembina River Plaza and the renovated Russell Reid Auditorium also will open.
The grand opening for the entire expansion project is planned for Nov. 2, 2014, during the 125th anniversary of North Dakota's statehood.
The Paleontology staff has worked on fossils this past winter that were collected in digs last summer.
"We collected a few fossils last year from the Pembina Gorge" Hoganson said. He said one of the fossils collected was the complete backbone of an 80-million-year-old mosasaur, a marine reptile.
"In August we will look for more of the skeleton," he said, adding, "We hope to find the skull this year."
All the bones of the mosasaur's backbone have been freed from several blocks of rock and were prepared this past winter. He said the fossil will go into the new Adaptation Gallery: Geological Time on the ocean floor in the exhibit.
He said that a 75-million-year-old mosasaur that was collected at Cooperstown will be suspended from the ceiling of the exhibit.
Hoganson said that last year the skull of a 60-million-year-old crocodile was collected at the Whiskey Creek site, a dig site in the Badlands west of Medora. The site, where work has been going on for two or three years, is on U.S. Forest Service-Dakota Prairie Grasslands.
"The site looks like it will contain several crocodile skeletons," Hoganson said. He said the crocodile skull collected last year is about 2 1/2 feet long and is probably from a 10-foot-long crocodile. He said it will be shown in the new gallery.
"In both cases (the mosasaur and the crocodile skull), people that were with us on the public fossil digs helped us excavate the fossils," Hoganson said.
Because of the installation of the Adaptation Gallery: Geological Time exhibits, Hoganson said only one public dig will be held this summer.
That dig for mosasaur, birds, fish, squid and other fossils at the Pembina Gorge site near Walhalla will be held Aug. 19-25.
The dig is open to anyone 15 or older, but participants 15-17 years must be accompanied by an adult. Family days for youth age 10 and up accompanied by an adult are planned for part of that dig schedule. The N.D. Geological Survey, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department and Walhalla Economic Development are co-sponsoring the fossil dig. For more information about the dig visit the N.D. Geological Survey website at (www.dmr.nd.gov/ndfossil/), then go to "Recent and Future Fossil Digs."