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"Bone Digger" Interns Fuel Their Passion At Dinosaur National Monument

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Taking a break from photographing fossils, paleo interns Ben Otoo and Nicole Ridgwell are dwarfed by a single neck vertebra of the giant plant-eating dinosaur Apatosaurus/NPS

Editor's note: The following article was written by Dan Cure, the staff paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument.

Ben Otoo and Nicole Ridgwell are spending the summer living a dream as they scramble and climb among the remains of the long dead. These young paleontologists are photographing and mapping the world famous deposit of ancient bones at Dinosaur National Monument. Their work is part of a multi-institutional effort to bring together the vast historical and scientific information about this great dinosaur quarry and ultimately make it available on-line to both scientists and the public. With over 1,500 dinosaur bones to document, and each bone needing multiple photographs to show all the anatomical details, plus converting several large historic quarry maps with drawings of thousands of bones needing into electronic files, it is a busy, but satisfying season.

"I love the mapping project," said Nicole. "It is incredibly important and I get to feel like I'm a part of the rich paleontological history of Dinosaur. Climbing around on the quarry wall to get those photos is really fun and I enjoy hearing visitors asking the interpreters about what we are doing because it is great for them to see paleontologists doing work up on the wall."

"Dinosaur National Monument is pretty much in every book, textbook, or documentary I've ever read or seen, so I was excited just at the prospect of working here," said Ben. "It's really great to be here helping the monument accomplish its mission. There's a lot of information for the mapping project that has to be collated and linked together. I realize now why this sort of thing hasn't been done before! There's a lot of human effort tied to the quarry, and it's humbling to be a part of it."

Both Ben and Nicole were bitten by the dinosaur bug while children, and have been pursuing careers in paleontology ever since. Nicole is a graduate student in the Museum and Field Studies program at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She has collected dinosaurs in Wyoming and Montana, fossil mammals in the Panama Canal Zone, and is currently studying dinosaur fossils from southern Utah.

"I decided that I wanted to become a paleontologist at the age of eight and stuck with it," recalls Nicole. "The dinosaur fossils preserved at Dinosaur are world-renowned and I relished the opportunity to work with them. This project also presents some great opportunities for me to learn about taking care of a fossil collection that is still in-place and permanently on exhibit."

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Standing in the middle of a dinosaur bone log jam inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall, paleontology interns Ben and Nicole collect data for the quarry mapping project at Dinosaur National Monument./NPS

As an undergraduate at Amherst College, Ben studied a new fossil mammal-like reptile from Tanzania and this fall heads overseas to England to begin graduate work on fossil fish and amphibians at the University of Cambridge. "As for places to be and work to be doing the summer after my graduation, this is certainly the best opportunity for me," he said.

For both Ben and Nicole, working on the wall of bones at Dinosaur is a memorable experience both scientifically and personally. As Ben recounts, "One of my favorite moments is when Nicole and I were photographing the famous Camarasaurus skull on the top of the quarry face and I went up to it to put the scale bar in the frame. To be so close to such an iconic specimen and to be part of the work that goes on here - it is really cool."

Ben and Nicole are Geologist-in-Park interns through a joint program between the National Park Service and the Geological Society of America. The GSA GeoCorps program brings together federal agencies and earth scientists who intern in a wide range of interpretive, resource management, and research activities. For more about the GeoCorps program visit


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