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July 8, 2016
Dino Dig
Dinosaur dig

Researchers from the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) recently wrapped up the "Great Wyoming Dinosaur Dig", a 3 week dinosaur fossil excavation of the fossil-rich "Two Sisters" site in Wyoming from June 19 through July 11. With funding support provided by Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County and Bassett Furniture Industries, researchers teamed up with faculty and students from Lynchburg College to unearth fossils for future study and exhibition.

"We're excited to re-establish a museum presence in Wyoming after a hiatus of several years," said Dr. Alex Hastings, VMNH assistant curator of paleontology. "The 'Two Sisters' site is a treasure trove of dinosaur bones and the ability to collect fossils for the museum's collections and exhibit galleries is a wonderful way for people back in Virginia and the east coast to witness first-hand the grandeur of these creatures."

Dr. Alex Hastings was accompanied by his colleagues, Dr. Kal Ivanov, VMNH assistant curator of invertebrate zoology, and Ray Vodden, VMNH research technician, throughout the excavation. The three weren't just collecting fossils, but had specific missions while in the field.

"One of the exciting aspects of the 'Two Sisters' site is the discovery of fully grown sauropod bones that are significantly smaller than that of previously known sauropods (a group of long-necked dinosaurs that include the familiar Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus)," said Hastings. "It's possible that these bones are of an unknown species of sauropod and we're interested in unearthing more of it to find out."

Additionally, Dr. Ivanov, who studies modern insects at the museum, is interested in studying a peculiar habit of harvester ants in Wyoming, which build large pebble-covered mounds, sometimes using artifacts and small fossils.

"The incorporation of these objects into the ant nests raises a number of questions of interest to both myrmecologists and paleontologists," said Ivanov. "For example, where do these items originate from and what is their purpose? Related to these questions, the aim of our project was two-fold. We want to understand the taphonomic signature of the ant micro-fossil transport based on the ant’s nest-building and foraging behaviors, and also investigate the role of the non-food items incorporated into the ant mounds."

Throughout the excavation, the team of museum researchers provided frequent updates from the field through images and videos via the museum's Facebook page using the hashtag #VMNHDinoDig.

When the researchers return to the museum, specimens collected from the excavation will be put on display inside the museum's paleontology laboratory for all visitors to view.

For more information, including images and videos from the dig, please visit the museum's Facebook page.