A group of St. Lawrence students taking a Summerterm course called "Almost Digging Dinosaurs" are helping researchers determine what life in the Badlands of North Dakota was like millions of years ago.

Chapin Professor of Geology Mark Erickson is teaching the course, and he and students Ed Cavallerano '03, Sudbury, Masschusetts, and Tim Bouchard '03, Pembroke, New Hampshire, were all quoted in a recent Associated Press story about the project they're involved in near Watford City, North Dakota. The area is being explored by officials from the North Dakota Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service; Erickson and students in the Summerterm course are assisting the officials.

A petrified tree stump was recently uncovered by the group, and has been identified as a type that could only have existed in subtropical climates and swampy areas. Erickson, who did his doctoral work at the University of North Dakota in 1971 and has been bringing students to the area ever since, said that previous digs have turned up "turtles and the remains of a mosasaur, a large prehistoric lizard."

The fossilized remains of a champsosaurus, a crocodile-like animal that lived in swamps and ponds 65 million years ago, have been also been found, a first for the region east of the Missouri River in North Dakota.

"That's also the farthest east that a champsosaurus have ever been found, at least in the mid-continent area," said John Hoganson a paleontologist for the North Dakota Geological Survey.

Hoganson said the pelvis and back legs of a champsosaurus were found while he, Erickson and the students were working at a plant fossil site near Linton, ND. The area is about 50 miles southeast of Bismarck and about 13 miles east of the Missouri River. "We have found remains of champsosaurus in North Dakota, actually, in several different places but all west of this site," Hoganson said.

A champsosaurus found in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on display in the park visitors center in Medora. The remains of two champsosauruses found on national grasslands in the Belfield area are also on display, one in the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck and another at U.S. Forest Service headquarters in Washington, Hoganson said.

The group working at the Linton site last week was looking for leaf fossils, Hoganson said.

Erickson discovered the plant fossil site years ago, in a roadside ditch.

"We had real good luck there," Hoganson said. "We found nearly 50 different kinds of plants."

The finds include fronds from palm trees and at least one plant that may be new to science, he said. The group collected nearly 2,000 specimens at the Linton site recently, Hoganson said. The fossils are on state land, and they will become part of the state collection at the Heritage Center, he said.

The group hopes to return to an ancient crocodile dig site in the Watford City area, and to a site south of Mandan before Erickson and the students from St. Lawrence leave North Dakota at the end of June.

Click here to read more about the Summerterm course "Almost Digging Dinosaurs."

Posted: June 18, 2002

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