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posted: 7/22/2012 6:00 AM

A chance to search for prehistoric treasures

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  • The Hell's Creek site, found in Montana in 2011, has yielded fossil turtles from the same ancient time period as a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex and a teenage triceratops.

      The Hell's Creek site, found in Montana in 2011, has yielded fossil turtles from the same ancient time period as a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex and a teenage triceratops.
    courtesy of the Burpee Museum of Natural History

  • The skeleton of "Jane" is on display at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford.

      The skeleton of "Jane" is on display at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford.
    courtesy of the Burpee Museum of Natural History

 
By Brian Singer
bsinger@dailyherald.com

Imagine being able to uncover a piece of history millions of years old.

Scott Williams, director of Exhibits and Science at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, has been helping to lead expeditions since 2000 to sites in Montana and Utah to search for dinosaur fossils and other prehistoric artifacts.

The exciting thing is that the trips are open to the public and anyone can join Williams' team, whether they're experts in the field, students or just regular folks with a love of dinosaurs and history.

"You get the full experience -- programs, geological lessons and instruction from experts from the field," Williams said.

Williams is organizing an expedition to Medicine Rocks Lodge in Ekalaka, Mont., Sunday, July 29, to Saturday, Aug 4. The trips costs $1,500 per person and covers the whole week of lodging, food, permission to survey and transportation to the sites.

Williams said the expeditions bring out the young adventurer and imagination in every person.

"Kids love to learn about dinosaurs -- the kid in you is still there to relive the experience and is in awe and wonder of possibly finding something that hasn't seen the light of day for some 60 million years," Williams says.

It was during an expedition 11 years ago to the Hell's Creek formation in Montana that the Burpee Museum's prized jewel was discovered -- a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex later named "Jane" that dated back around 66 million years ago.

William's group included leader Mike Henderson, former curator of Earth Sciences at the Burpee Museum, and William Harrison, a professor of Foreign Language and Literature at Northern Illinois University, who are both credited for the finding.

The original discovery actually happened in 2001 when Harrison and another member of the group, Carol Tuck, stumbled upon two bones sticking out of the base of a nearby butte. Without the proper license to keep digging, it wasn't until the next summer and after seven weeks of hard work that the juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex was finally excavated.

"The odds of finding a dinosaur are less than winning the lottery," Harrison said.

Along with Jane, Burpee expeditions have found other prehistoric treasures including the largest dinosaur bone beds in the Morrison formation in Utah, and a teenage triceratops, which was named Homer and will soon be joining Jane in Rockford.

With the attention gained from big discoveries, people from all over the country come to join the Burpee Museum's annual summer expeditions.

"It's a good venue to get your feet wet if you're interested in the area," Williams said. "There are good friendships and contacts to meet, and new things to discover every year."

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