In the fields near Jordan, Montana, prospecting the Hell Creek Formation, a group of Southeast Missouri State University students recently uncovered fossils that tell a story 65 million years old.
From June 20-26, 2021, the geoscience students embarked on a trip to search for dinosaur fossils, and they did not return empty handed.
In fact, the students who spent one week in Montana discovered a wide range of dinosaur fossils, including teeth, brow horns, vertebrae, triceratops skulls and frill, as well as fossils from the triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex species.
This summer expedition marked the second trip by Southeast students to prospect in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana since 2019, according to Pamela Mills, trip coordinator and geoscience instructor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. Mills had planned to take another group of students last year, but the trip was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eight students attended this summer’s trip:
- John Bowdle, a senior middle school education major with a double minor in middle school science and geoscience from Wentzville, Mo.
- Jake Adams, a junior environmental science major with a minor in geoscience from St. Charles, Mo.
- Latasha Monday, a junior corporate communication major with a double minor in social work and family students from O’Fallon, Mo.
- Garrett Hanlin, a senior middle school education major with a minor in middle school science from East Prairie, Mo.
- Madi Keith, a junior environmental science major with a double minor in geoscience and geographic information systems from Salem, Mo.
- Andrea Fischer, a freshman general studies major from Oak Ridge, Mo.
- Dilise Dupré, a senior marine biology major, also studying wildlife conservation biology, with a minor in geoscience from Wildwood, Mo.
- Taylor Beggs, a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in environmental science from Sikeston, Mo.
Now, the students will study, clean, reconstruct and glue together the fossils in the Rhodes Hall Geoscience Lab, a process they began during the Fall 2021 semester, when members of the Adventure 360-Paleo X team visited campus.
“Most of the work that is done in the lab is the cleaning of the bones. This is the longest process — it’s definitely something that requires a lot of patience,” said Dupré, who attended the Montana trip this year after several courses in geoscience. “I like this kind of work because it involves a lot of problem solving to carefully and effectively piece these bones back together. It’s almost like a 65-million-year-old puzzle.”
The fossils are also being used for outreach purposes, and the students will make presentations to youth groups, Mills said. Recently, the fossils were loaned to a geology kids camp which took place at the Discovery Playhouse in Cape Girardeau.
Mills said she was excited to be able to share such a unique and authentic learning experience with the students – to help them gain a lifelong love of the geosciences and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
And that’s just the kind of experience Dupré was looking for. Admitting she’s always loved dinosaurs, Dupré said she signed up for the prospecting trip, in part, because she wanted the experience of unearthing fossils with the Paleo X team.
“Next thing I knew,” she said, “I was in the badlands of Montana, having the time of my life!”
Madi Keith said she ended up taking a class with Mills to complete degree requirements and subsequently “fell in love” with the science of geology — and the way Mills taught the course.
“I decided to take a few more classes with Mrs. Mills, which led to me going to Montana with her,” Keith said, noting her current lab work consists of cleaning a bone from a past trip while she awaits new tools to open the plaster of rib bones she acquired in Montana. “This work is very time consuming and tedious, but I love seeing the before and after photos of what I am working on and seeing the progress, no matter how slow it is.”
In addition to hiking and exploring the badlands of Montana, Mills said the students were able to experience what it would be like to be a paleontologist working in the field by mapping sedimentary rock strata and discovering the dinosaur fossils. They also learned the correct procedure for tagging, jacketing and collecting fossils in the field.
Through the geoscience program at Southeast, Keith said she hopes to learn better problem-solving skills and gain more independence in her work. Keith is interested in pursuing a career in forestry or conservation.
Dupré said she hopes to gain more valuable geoscience field experience while working with the bones and looks forward to helping people understand the importance of these findings. She is interested in pursuing a career that involves coastal restoration or studying climate change.
“The earth is absolutely beautiful,” Dupré said, “and we can learn a lot from it.”