On the Sixth Day of HMNS…hunt dinosaurs with Dr. Bob Bakker

There’s always a lot happening at the Houston Museum of Natural Science – especially during the holiday season. Today’s post is just one of the 12 ideas for fabulous family fun we’ve put together for you (it’s a take-off of everyone’s favorite holiday classic, The 12 Days of Christmas) We’ll be sharing the possibilities here every day until Christmas Eve. Best of all, most are activities that last past the holiday season – some, year round. You can also check them all out now at the spiffy new 12 Days of HMNS web site.

Today, hunt dinosaurs with famed paleontologist and HMNS curator of paleontology Dr. Robert Bakker. The video was shot in May 2008 on the ranch in Montana where Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur on display in Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation, was found. Dr. Bakker tells us how a fossil like Leonardo was made, then takes us through the process of fossil hunting – from how to train your eye to find the smallest fragments to what to do once you’ve got a good layer of fossils going.

And – don’t miss Leonardo’s world premiere at HMNS! This spectacular mummified fossil – covered 90% with skin and including mummified internal organs – is going back to his permanent home in Malta after the exhibit closes on Jan. 11. Leonardo is truly a wonder – it evokes, more than any fossil I’ve ever seen, a real sense of what dinosaurs must have been like in life. You won’t want to miss seeing this in person.

Check out the first five days of HMNS:
On the first day of HMNS, explore The Birth of Christianity.
On the second day of HMNS, shop for Sci-tastic gifts.
On the third day of HMNS, meet Prancer the reindeer.
On the fourth day of HMNS, discover the making of The Star of Bethlehem.
On the fifth day, move it, move it with Madagascar 2in the Wortham IMAX Theatre.

Live from the Field: Until Next Time…

 That’s all folks: digging’s done for this year.

For the past week and a half, the HMNS paleontology team – led by Dr. Robert Bakker – has been back in Seymour, TX, digging for Dimetrodon at a site they’ve now been working for several years. (You can read more of what’s been found already in our daily blog from the field in 2007). Today, they said goodbye to the site for several months, after leaving it covered and safe for the coming winter weather, and pulling out a ton (possibly literally) of new material to study and prepare until then.

David Temple – our associate curator of paleontology and a one of our BEYONDbones bloggers- provides this series’ farewell podcast with a wrapup of their discoveries – and a review of the local cuisine.


Never fear! If you miss the daily update, stop by the museum – members of the team and Museum volunteers often work to preserve these fossils in public areas, like the Paleontology Hall or the Dinosaur Mummy CSI exhibition. You can also check out earlier updates from this dig trip:

Day One: Live from the Fossil Field
Day Two: The Smoking Gun
Day Three: New Discoveries
Day Four: Secondontosaurus Found?
Day Five: Mad Max
Day Six: Fossil Prep
Day Seven: Trench Warfare
Day Eight and Nine: Two for One!

Live from the Field: Two for One!

A Dimetrodon vertebra,
found at the team’s dig site.

Our paleontology team – led by Dr. Robert Bakker – is back in Seymour, TX, digging for Dimetrodon at a site they’ve now been working for several years. (You can read more of what’s been found already in our daily blog from the field in 2007). Today, they’re wrapping things up to come back to Houston – and they’ve sent us two updates.

In the first, David Temple – our associate curator of paleontology and a one of our BEYONDbones bloggers, talks about the darker side of Texas paleontology – cactus spines – and how you protect a dig site for the winter weather.


In the second, we’re pleased to bring you an update from Tim Quarles. Tim was a member of the team that found and excavated Leonardo, the famous mummified dinosaur that is now on display here in Houston. He was also there for our recent trip to Malta, where Leonardo was found. So, the team was thrilled that he happened to be in Texas for a few days, and was able to stop by our dig site.  In his update, Tim gives us his impressions from digging in the Permian for the first time.


You can also check out earlier updates from this dig trip:

Day One: Live from the Fossil Field
Day Two: The Smoking Gun
Day Three: New Discoveries
Day Four: Secondontosaurus Found?
Day Five: Mad Max
Day Six: Fossil Prep
Day Seven: Trench Warfare

Beyond the Bones: ABC-13 features Leonardo in 30-minute special

Ack! Paleontologists often take their lives in their
hands to get to fossils. In this shot, they’re looking
at some T. rex fossils on a two-foot ledge that’s
hanging over a 100-foot drop.

Thanks to Hurricane Ike, most of us were still without power when the Discovery Channel aired their documentary about Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur.

Luckily, a local ABC news crew came along on our recent trip to Malta, MT (it’s quite a trek) to see Leonardo, the mummy dinosaur, and venture out to the very remote site (about 2 hours outside a town that is 4 hours from the closest city) where this famous dinosaur was discovered.

It was an amazing experience – and ABC captured it all for their newest 30-minute special, Beyond the Bones: Dinosaur Mummy CSI, airing tomorrow night – Saturday, Oct 4 – after the 10 p.m. news. They braved the elements, trekked to the top of the highest cliffs, risked the ire of some very enthusiastic cows – and even hung outside of vehicles to bring you the story of an extraordinary 77-million year old duckbill dinosaur. If it sounds dramatic – that’s because it was.

Now that’s commitment.

As a photo, this is kind ofimpressive – in the sense that nowadays, anyone who doesn’t wear a seatbelt is perceived as a crazed loon. But I was in the car in front of this one – and what you don’t see is the foot-thick mud we’re fish-tailing through, the 200-foot cliff that’s only slightly to the left of this frame, the forty-degree incline of the hill and the pouring rain that’s obscuring all of the drivers’ vision. I felt like a crazed loon just for being there, and I was buckled in, windows up with a white-knuckle grip on the hang-bar. Mike (holding the camera) is just crazy-awesome – and I can’t wait to see the shots he got.

Art Rascon interviews paleontologist Mark Thompson,
who was on the dig that uncovered Leonardo.

The rain and the mud were so bad that only extremely tough vehicles could make it through to the site where Leonardo was discovered – which is located in one of many, many almost unbelievably gorgeous ravines that – out of nowhere – just fall away from solid ground. (It’s a good idea to watch where you’re going.)

It’s actually pretty tough to get there in normal conditions – so, our transport options were limited. When Mark, one of the paleontologists who was there when Leonardo was uncovered, jumped in the back to ride down to the site – Art and Mike rode with him to get an interview along the way. (Notice I am taking this photo from the safety of the car’s interior). This shot really does not do justice to the madness of trying to avoid being thrown from a vehicle that’s descending 40 degree, unpaved inclines littered with boulders – in the rain.

You can get in on the action – which covers everything from Leonardo’s life 77 million years ago and the site of his unexpected discovery in Montana to behind-the-scenes shots of the exhibit in Houston and the second hurricane Leonardo experienced – when ABC airs the special this Saturday night. Tune in – and come by to see Leonardo for yourself; he’s in Houston through Jan. 11, 2009.