The great majority of human beings work at jobs that are routine and do not make a large-scale difference in what humankind as a whole knows or how they look at things. They sell things. They do bookkeeping. They deliver the mail. They help construct buildings. Very few people get to work with the remains of creatures that died millions of years before there were any humans. Such professionals are about as rare as the remains themselves. This article will describe such an exciting career.
Making a cast of a dinosaur print is a great way to document a fabulous find, especially since dinosaur prints are so rare. Of course, before anyone begins the actual cast, it is best to take pictures of the track for complete documentation of the find. Also take careful note of exactly where the footprint was found as well as when the cast was taken. Be precise in noting the location, giving not only the country and the nearest city, but also the latitude and longitude, down to the second. This is important because when the prints themselves were made the continents were in a different location than they are today owing to the constant movements of the plates whose surfaces they form. Thus, places that are widely separated today were close together
Not many supplies are needed to make the cast. It is important to bring water, plaster of Paris, a bucket, gloves and a knife along to the site. Because dinosaur prints are so large, a great deal of plaster will be needed. In fact, each track usually requires five pounds of plaster. In addition, a good amount of time should be set aside for this experience because it takes one to two hours for the plaster to dry. Another tip is to practice on other animal tracks before beginning; many familiar tracks can be found in the woods. This will ensure that the dinosaur track, which is rare, will be cast perfectly.
Wearing gloves, the worker should mix the plaster of Paris with water in a plastic bucket until it is the consistency of a thick liquid. When the consistency is right, the plaster should be poured into the track. After the plaster is thoroughly hardened, it can be removed by using the knife to dig around it. It will take several days for the plaster to be completely hardened. After this time, the rest of the dirt covering the plaster can be removed. A great cast of a dinosaur track will intrigue everyone who sees it and will be a cherished possession.
How and where to find work in the field
As mentioned above, dinosaur prints, like fossils in general, are rare in most parts of the world. The individual who wants to make a living out of making casts of the prints should therefore search in a place where fossils are more common. Such places include the Western United States and Canada and much of China, both of which have even supplied the names of many types of dinosaurs, including edmontosaurus, albertosaurus and tienshanosaurus. Indeed there is an area in Utah that has been designated as Dinosaur National Monument. The world’s richest deposit of dinosaur remains may be the Red Deer River Valley in southern Alberta. Other regions rich in dinosaur deposits include Belgium, Germany, Mongolia and Tanzania.
To apply for the job, go to a museum or an institute devoted to the study of dinosaurs. Not all of them are located in regions of the kind described above; some are situated elsewhere but those who work for them must often travel hundreds of miles, or even around the globe, in search of fossils for their collections.
One of the biggest collections of dinosaur fossils on display is that housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, whose fossil of tyrannosaurus rex is comprised almost completely of the bones of an actual specimen, with few pieces having to be made to “fill in” the gaps. Other places that feature dinosaur exhibits include:
• the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
• the Alabama Museum of Natural History, University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa
• Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana
• Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, Glendive, Montana
• Dakota Dinosaur Museum, Dickinson, North Dakota
• Dinosaur Discovery Museum, Kenosha, Wisconsin
• Morrison Natural History Museum, Morrison, Colorado
• University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, Ann Arbor
What dinosaur footprints can tell us
Like all fossils, the footprints of dinosaurs can tell us a great deal not only about the way they lived, but also about some other important questions regarding the dinosaur world as a whole. It was the study of dinosaur footprints, for instance, that led paleontologists to rethink the question of whether the creatures that had made them were cold-blooded or warm-blooded.
By measuring the distance between tracks, scientists can calculate the speed at which a dinosaur was moving. The results have indicated that dinosaurs, particularly the predatory ones, often ran at top speed, leading scientists to conclude that they were fleet and agile rather than slow-moving as previously believed. Such agility, as indicated by observations of present-day creatures, is more characteristic of warm-blooded creatures than of cold-blooded ones. For many years, similarly, paleontologists assumed that the largest dinosaurs, known as sauropods, walked with their tails dragging along the ground behind them. If such had been the case, then the tails would have obliterated the prints. Instead, what scientists have found are clear impressions in the soil. Sauropods must therefore have held their tails above ground as they walked, a posture that would have required the kind of energy that only warm-blooded animals typically have.