Montana Learning Center
Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology
Carter County Museum
What makes the Vickie Mosasaur Site significant?
Montana Learning Center campers have been helping excavate the tail end of a Mosasaur knows as "Vickie." The campers have helped to collect what appears to be nearly all of the bones, including 70 articulated vertebrae spanning 25 feet and multiple pelvic elements of this roughly 75 million year old predatory marine reptile. The specimen is unique in that it was found on the southern edge of the Cedar Creek Anticline. This area of marine sediments that are between 90-70 million years old has not been very well studied in the past.
What has been most surprising about your discoveries at this location?
What was most shocking about this site was the initial completeness of fossilized bones of Vickie the Mosasaur. On the surface, we were able to initially identify more than 25 feet of articulated vertebrae, which honestly is a rarity. We usually deal in partial specimens, but this one seemed to be nearly complete from the moment it was discovered.
What are your current research objectives at your site?
Our current research endeavors at this site are first and foremost to learn what species the Mosasaur is. No skull material has been recovered yet, and the axial skeleton is less diagnostic, so this may take a while to tease out once it is in the lab. Ammonites and other invertebrates will help date the mosasaur, which will aid in this process.
What was most important or rewarding find at this site?
The most important and rewarding find at the site was found by our Montana Learning Center campers nearby: ammonites. Ammonites are extinct relatives of squids, similar to nautiloids. Ammonites are extremely important because they can help constrain the date of when this specimen died. Having campers discover some of the most critical parts of the research is beyond rewarding for all parties included at the site.
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The Montana Learning Center Dinosaur Camp is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for high school students to participate in an active paleontology dig in Montana. The expedition is centered around sites in the Pierre Shale and Hell Creek Formation, the latter being known for its wide array of dinosaur fossils. These include T. rex, Triceratops and Mosasaurs, along with a menagerie of reptile, fish, mammal and ammonite fossils of the upper Cretaceous and Early Paleocene rocks.
The Pierre Shale Group underlies the Hell Creek Formation and preserves the regression of an inland sea towards a coastal swamp. The Hell Creek Formation is home to the K-Pg boundary which defines the end of the Cretaceous period, with finds dated to about 66 million years ago. The boundary is notable in that it contains a high amount of iridium, which scientists theorize is proof of the meteorite that caused the mass extinction event on Earth that wiped out many of the dinosaurs.
What to Expect:
This is a camping experience with space limited to 12 students. We will drive from the Montana Learning Center in Helena to Ekalaka, Montana on Sunday and return Friday. There will be three days of field expeditions to various sites in the Pierre Shale and Hell Creek Formations. In addition to dinosaur excavation, students will also learn to identify microfossils (like tiny fossilized bones and fish scales), harvest fossil plants and collect amber.
Campers will contribute to scientific study of the fossils of this area by bringing all collected material to the Carter County Museum, Montana’s very first dinosaur museum—in Ekalaka. Here, they will sort material and learn the basics of fossil preparation. Once preparation is completed, all specimens will be housed in a permanent exhibit at the Carter County Museum and campers’ names will be listed as the collectors.
Campers will receive a special tour of the collections areas of the Carter County Museum to see the wide array of important fossils and materials that have been excavated over the past 85 years. Students will also receive a souvenir of a fossil cast.
The goal of the program is to nurture and develop an interest in paleontology with the hope that students will consider pursuing study in the field of paleontology. With that goal, the cost of the program covers transportation, room and board and training, and additional proceeds from the camp also help fund an internship in paleontology for a college student.
What's Included in the Cost:
Included in the cost of the camp is transportation to and from Helena to the camp and dig location in Ekalaka, Montana. Also included are all meals, snacks and all learning and recreational activities and related fees.
Montana Learning Center staff will provide training in proper paleontology techniques and all the tools for digging and collecting, jacketing and transporting fossils are included.
What to Bring:
There are no accommodations. Students will be camping. There is a latrine and tents will be provided, but campers will need to bring their own sleeping bag, pillow, flashlight, daypack and refillable water bottle. It can get very hot in the summer, so students should bring lightweight clothing that covers and protects, such as long sleeve shirts, pants, sun glasses and hat. Sunscreen is a must. The campsite is at a lake, so campers will want bathing suits. Closed, comfortable shoes or boots are also necessary.
Space is limited to 12 students
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Students entering 8-12 grades
Participation is subject to availability and is at the full discretion of the dig location. Prices and dates dates subject to change.