Monday, June 6, 2011

Archaeologists Don’t Dig Dinosaurs, Doesn’t Mean We Aren’t Interested in Them

I was going to make a bad joke out of that, but I should leave the jokes to the professionals. In a previous post I pointed out some common misconceptions when it comes to anthropologists and archaeologists mainly the notion that archaeologists dig up dinosaur bones and fossils. This of course is false, it is the paleontologists that dig up and study dinosaur bones and fossils. Really the main reason of this is because archaeologists strive to understand humans and cultures through physical artifacts. Dinosaurs were around way before humans existed, which of course is another misconception people have (I like to blame The Flintstones for that one).
This being said, dinosaurs are still fascinating and a lot of anthropologists and archaeologists study paleontology in their course work. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fit paleontology classes into my course load but in other classes we touched on the existence of dinosaurs and the timeline they lived in. Especially in my Landscape Archaeology class we studied the subsequent wipe out of the dinosaurs and what caused this. So needless to say when it comes to dinosaurs and fossils I don’t know as much as many other people do.
So like I do with anything else, I have been doing research on it over the years. When I was younger at one point I wanted to be a paleontologist and like any other phase I went through I had to get my hands on everything on the subject. This meant journeying to the Natural History Museum and looking at all the exhibits, reading all the books I could and watching endless educational programs on the matter. Of course it didn’t help that at this time I was in my Christian school where we were told that dinosaur bones were put on the earth to “test us.” (Which I always laughed at and questioned which like everything else I said at my school resulted in long talks with the teachers).
Of course like any other childhood phase this one was replaced by something else (which at the time ironically I think was archaeology) and the dinosaurs fell by the wayside. Still the concept of fossilized materials and dinosaur bones always continued to fascinate me. When I got to Penn State the concept came up in anthropology and archaeology classes and in my geology classes as well. Still it fell to the wayside while I learned the difference between male and female skulls, cherts and shards, endogamy and exogamy, test shovel pits and transects and hundreds of other anthropological facts.
For awhile now my love for dinosaurs and fossils has been quelled by my love for cultures, religions, artifacts and bones. That was until I found an awesome discovery on Saturday. My father and I were driving around Laurel, MD and off Contee Road behind an Office Park we found a place called “Dinosaur Park.” Apparently this park has been around for about a year and the site was actually discovered by Smithsonian paleontologists in their study of Dinosaur migrations down the East Coast. What is fascinating is that what has now been turned into a park was the site of where they found hundreds of dinosaur bones. All of this happens to be right off of Interstate 95.
Of course the both the inner archeologist and the inner child came out in me when we pulled up and saw a huge mound where adults and children alike were poised with trowels searching for any other fossils. Unfortunately it’s only open from 12 – 4 on Saturdays and it was almost 4 so we couldn’t actually dig. I did though read all the informational plaques that they had set up that overlooked the site. Granted the information was broken down so that the populous could understand and was mostly information that I had previously known.
So you better believe the next Saturday that I have free (which in the month of June are very scarce) I’m gonna unearth some Dinosaur fossils probably alongside some 7 year olds. The funny thing about this is when it comes to attractions like this that are archaeology based I always cringe when it comes to “civilians” digging up and possibly destroying artifacts. I know when I go I’m going to be that annoying person who is going to be looking around at what everyone else is doing and making sure they’re not driving their trowels into fossils.
Of course I will give a full report to you guys when I find my rare fossils in this mound (oh you better believe I’m going to find something). Even better if anyone lives in the MD area and wants to come along, the more the merrier! Fair warning though I get way too excited about these types of things and I tend to talk people’s ears off when it comes to the history of the area (I do after all work for the Laurel History Museum). So if you’re willing to put up with my sometimes overenthusiastic anthropologist self then come and join me! Otherwise stay tuned for updates!

Photo Courtesy of the "Dinosaur Park" website


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