The stereotype of the paleontologist is a dusty, rusty, sun beaten “character” a little rough around the edges, who spends weeks or months digging in some remote location. The same image serves for the archeologist or anthropologist, especially those who dug and still dig in the Anasazi-haunted deserts of the American Southwest. In movies like Jurassic Park paleontologists dress like Indiana Jones, the fictional archaeologist modelled, according to Hollywood urban legend, on American Museum Paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, most famous for his expeditions to Mongolia in the 1920s. There, dressed in khaki with a pistol on his hip, he fended off bandits while finding spectacular dinosaurs, eggs and nests.
Please read Andrews’ adventurous expedition stories, but remember he did not work in the American Southwest where other paleontologists have been active in the Dinosaur Diamond region since the late 19th Century. On a personal note, I’ve known and worked with numerous professional and amateur paleontologists active in the region since the latter part of the 20th century. These “characters” were not all men as they tended to be in the past, and we must give credit to women who have helped transform the study of wild west paleontology. Again, on a personal note, after writing the Paleo Happenings series on tracks in 2020 and on body fossils in 2021, I wondered what the theme for 2022 might be. The inspiration was a no brainer. Why not do ever-interesting Paleo People?
Who discovered giant Jurassic dinosaurs of the Grand Valley and Dinosaur National Monument between 1900 and 1910? Answer: Elmer Riggs and Earl Douglass. Which of Elmer Riggs finds is most famous and is display at one of the world’s busiest airports? Answer: Brachiosaurus seen at Chicago airport, and long claimed as the world’ largest dinosaur.Journalists of the day drew one looking in the window of a fifth story window of a Chicago sky scrapper.
Who helped Jim Madsen, then Utah State Paleontologist, describe a dinosaur egg from the Allosaurus graveyard at the Cleveland Lloyd Quarry? Answer: Karl Hirsch a survivor of Soviet prison camp who began a rock hounding career around Moab after World War II. What do Jim Kirkland (Utah Geological Survey), Brooks Britt, John Foster (former director of the Museum of Moab) and Julia McHugh have in common? Answer: they were all curators at the Museum of Western Colorado (MWC), and have kept the huge Rabbit Valley quarry active for a generation. Julia, the current MWC curator is also a renowned expert on fossil amphibians. Who named Supersaurus and became famous for filling the BYU football stadium basement with dinosaur bones? Answer: “Dinosaur Jim Jensen” paleontologist, sculptor and artist who also named a dinosaur after the owner of the Moab Rock Shop. And who was that? Answer: Lin Ottinger. Which Moab resident published more than 100 maps and geologically-themed back country guidebooks, including two on fossil footprints? Answer: Fran Barnes.