Digging for dinosaur bones

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich © NorahColvin

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich
© NorahColvin

My family has had a love affair, some might say obsession, certainly a fascination, with dinosaurs for almost forty years. My son initiated the affair when he was about three after being undecided whether to watch or not when dinosaurs burst onto the drive-in screen in One Million Years BC. I’m not sure when I first discovered dinosaurs, but It may have been at the same time.

By the time Rob was four, like many children, he knew the names of a great number of dinosaurs and could rattle off screeds of information about them. It had been a steep learning curve for all of us, though he remembered far more than I. A travelling encyclopedia salesman was so impressed by his knowledge that he gave him a book about dinosaurs. (I’d already purchased; it wasn’t an incentive.) Later, his little sister Bec shared his interest.

dinosaurs at museum Jan 91

© Norah Colvin

Now the affair continues with Rob’s own children. Six-year-old G1 can name and identify far more dinosaurs than I realised existed.  His younger sister G2 is not far behind. Such is the power of these mighty, and not so mighty, beasts to excite the imagination. The entire family become dinosaur experts in support of the children’s quest for knowledge.

I recently accompanied the family to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I have mentioned this previously here. Both were wonderful learning experiences.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

La Brea Tar Pits is a museum located at a fossil site where there are ongoing excavations. In the grounds, we saw realistic sculptures of prehistoric woolly mammoths trapped in the tar. Inside, we saw fossilised skeletons removed from the tar pits; including skeletons of animals such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves, and camels. Yes, camels originated in North America.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Walking the grounds, we had to sidestep the smelly tar that still oozes in puddles around the site. It’s an amazing experience, walking on the same land where these prehistoric creatures walked, their presence almost tangible. In an enclosed area, a group of paleontologists were working with fossils recovered from the site. Scientists use these fossils to help construct our understanding of life before human history began.

What I find interesting about the understandings derived from these fossils, is that much of it is guesswork; educated guesswork, yes, but fossils tell only part of the story. The rest must be filled in using knowledge of contemporary and recorded life. Sometimes assumptions are made, especially when only partial skeletons are found, that must be altered when, or if, complete skeletons are found.

American Museum of Natural History © Norah Colvin

American Museum of Natural History © Norah Colvin

I was very impressed with the way this aspect of science was dealt with in the American Museum of Natural History. Many signs informed us that scientists don’t know for sure, but that they have substantial evidence for making their assumptions. Other signs told of claims that had been revised as new information was discovered. I appreciated being told, in essence: “This is what we know, this is what we think, and this is the evidence to support our claims.”

This talk by palaeontologist Jack Horner, which I discovered via a link from Charli Millspost, demonstrates the process with some fascinating dinosaur discoveries and assumptions.

This recent BBC article Meet Nanotyrannus, the dinosaur that never really existed provides additional evidence to support Horner’s claims.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A study of dinosaurs provides many opportunities for learning across the curriculum and what a great way to incorporate children’s natural interests and curiosity when looking at topics such as scientific method, evolution and climate change.

I’m grateful to Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch for the incentive to write about this topic with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.)

Since “discovering dinosaurs”, so to speak, I’ve always thought how wonderful it must be to unearth a great find. I haven’t made it an ambition, but I appreciate the potential for excitement. Here’s my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Old Bones

She scratched at the surface tentatively at first, all senses keened, certain of imminent success. She’d uncovered bones here before. Usually one meant there’d be more. All it required was patience and persistence. Suddenly she contacted something more solid than the surrounding earth. She froze. Then exhaled. Could this be the object of her search? Frantically she scraped away the surrounding soil, exposing her find. She stepped back momentarily, assessing it, assuring herself it was real. Then with one final swoop, she removed the bone as carefully and proudly as any paleontologist would a dinosaur bone. “Woof!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

38 thoughts on “Digging for dinosaur bones

  1. SleepyTown

    I wish that Australia had a better collection of dinosaur bones! My son is obsessed with dinosaurs, and the ones at the closest museum sucked. I would love to take him to the tar pits.
    I’m teaching him about carnivores and herbivores presently, but he is only 3, so its an uphill battle!
    Thank you for a great and humorous piece of writing

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  2. Rowena

    I found it interesting to read through the comments and realised that dinosaurs weren’t a thing when I was growing up in the 70s. I do remember Snoopy. Dinosaurs had attracted some interest in our household but trains were a serious interest for our son before he discovered electronics.
    I really loved your flash and you got me good. Even after I read the “woof”, I still had to think it through and was wondering why they would call out: “woof”> I’m quite a Bones fan and pictured her in the flash and she says some weird stuff but “woof” was even out there by her standards. It’s late.
    Didn’t know you’d been on a trip to USA. How exciting!
    Hope you have a great week.
    xx Rowena

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Rowena,
      Thanks for stopping by. I had to laugh at your response to my flash. I did get you good! I’ve never watched “Bones”. Perhaps I should!
      My trip to the US was short but great.
      You have a good week too! 🙂

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  3. jeanne229

    Fascinating post Norah. I very much resonated with your account of the tar pits. I lived in LA in my twenties and would visit the museum often, always stopping to ponder the prehistoric site right in the middle of that urban sprawl. And very interesting your reflection on how kids seem to naturally absorb facts about dinosaurs. Here we are, the distant descendants of these creatures, pondering their existence millions of years after their demise. Of course, the continuing discoveries make it all the more fascinating…the revelation that they most likely had feathers and may have sung to one another like birds. Loved the flash too. Bravo on that last surprise. I had not thought about my childhood dog for years until that “Woof!” We had holes all over our yard…not for bone digging alas but for buried cookies.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you very much for your encouraging comment, Jeanne. I’m so pleased that you also enjoyed the Tar Pits. You’re the first who’s admitted to having knowledge of them. They are amazing. The other things that fascinated me as we drove to the Tar Pits were all the oil wells. I had never seen anything like it before – and also in the middle of the city. It’s an amazing place.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for the suggestions, Jules. The children have seen The Good Dinosaur, I know; but I’m not aware of The Dinosaur Train. I’ll have to find out if they are. It’s always great to receive suggestions, thank you. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash.

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  4. Hugh's Views and News

    One Million Years BC is a movie that had me hooked on Dinosaurs, Norah. The other one was The Valley Of Gwangi. They clearly had an impact on me because all I wanted for Christmas was a baby dinosaur.
    Lovely piece of Flash Fiction with the perfect twist. You had me all the way to that final word. It’s not many writers that can do that.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I didn’t know of The Valley of Gwangi so had to look it up. I hope you did get that baby dinosaur for Christmas!
      I’m pleased the flash was successful. The ending surprised me a bit too when it jumped out at me! 🙂
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      1. Hugh's Views and News

        What struck me about The Valley of Gwangi was that it was a western movie with the added touch of a dinosaur. I would never have dreamt of putting them together. Somebody did a very good job in doing that.
        No dinosaur for Christmas. Back then, I can’t even remember there being toy dinosaurs. It may have been Jurassic Park before the toy dinosaur became a hit, but I may be wrong.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Yes. I was surprised to see the combination of western and dinosaurs. But of course, the dinosaurs roamed the same lands, just a lot time before!
          I’m sorry you didn’t get that toy dinosaur. I don’t remember when they first became available either. Movie merchandise sounds plausible!

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  5. Pingback: Old Bones Collection « Carrot Ranch Communications

  6. Charli Mills

    Your post reminds me how important imagination is to science. What a fun generational passion to pass down; one so full of learning and so engaging for family outings. If your family ever gets back to the US, they definitely need to visit the Museum of the Rockies where Horner is still head curator. Delightful flash! And you do such an excellent job of drawing us in to the excitement of the pursuit and so cleverly let us know the digger’s identity with one word (sort of)!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much, Charli. I think we’d all love to visit Jack Horner and his museum. His passion is inspirational. And as you say, imagination is so inextricably linked with science. We can’t create what we can’t imagine – even if it means creating a new theory or way of looking at things. Sometimes the best learning happens outside the walls of the classroom. (I just said that? Really?)
      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. I hadn’t actually planned it that way. The naughtiness popped into my head at the last minute. Maybe that’s why it works so well. It surprised me too! 🙂

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      1. Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! Yes, you just said that — but the best learning happens outside the walls under the guidance of educators that inspire us to open our eyes to the world and learn, to not “work” at it but “play” at it.

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  7. macjam47

    LOL! Your short piece with its surprise ending is hilarious. I have never been to La Brea Tar Pits or to American Museum of Natural History, but then I’ve never been to LA or NYC. Thanks for the links to the museums. Perhaps someday…

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Michelle. I seem to have been successful with the comedy this time. I’m so pleased. It’s a nice change from my dark stories. 🙂
      The museums are fascinating. I didn’t ever expect it would be “one day” for me either. There seem to be a lot of interesting museums in the US. I’m sure you’ve been to many others.

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  8. Steven

    After settling down from the giggles, I concur with the other comments here. That one word makes all the difference. Very well done – this work must be one of your shortest pieces of comedy.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Steven. I’m pleased the flash gave you all a laugh. I wasn’t sure if it would work or not. I did feel a bit naughty when I wrote that last word. Comedy is not usually a strong point!

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      1. Steven

        You could have fooled me. Although you may have felt naught adding that word, consider this. You have written a comical piece that has broad audience appeal and all without “taking the mickey” out of any one person or group. I’d like to hear the audio-flash of that one!

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s true. Thank you. I appreciate your evaluation. The audio-flash could be interesting. It might be just a lot of panting though! 🙂

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  9. thecontentedcrafter

    I so agree with Anne, Norah – I was expecting the theme to continue on and gave a hoot of laughter when it went somewhere else entirely. Brilliantly done!

    I don’t share your attraction to dinosaurs – but my goodness isn’t it fabulous to have a family interest of such magnitude. If ever I need information I’ll know where to come!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash, and that it gave you a laugh, Pauline. I did feel as if I was selling out the theme a little, but when I got to the end, I couldn’t resist.
      If you ever need more info on dinosaurs, I’ll know where to send you! G1 is the expert! 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      There’s always so much more to learn, isn’t there? They’re digging up new bones, new evidence, and new theories almost every day!

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  10. Annecdotist

    Now, Norah, I just have to stop laughing long enough to dictate my comment! I loved your flash but really didn’t see it coming after your serious post. I’ve always been impressed with little kids getting their tongues round all those different dinosaur names (much better than I can) but still can’t make out whether there is an intrinsic attraction (could be getting to grips with “monsters”) or hitting the right moment in popular culture. Perhaps a bit of both?

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased the flash amused you, Anne. I did feel a little bit naughty, I must admit. 🙂
      I’m not sure about the fascination either, but whatever it is, they do a good job of capturing the imagination.

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