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Stephanie Jennings

In 2008, an amateur fossil hunter by the name of Deniz Oktay walked along Duck Creek in Garland, Texas and saw something fossil hunters love to see: bones! Erosion in the creek revealed 85 million-year-old bones of a Mosasaur, an ancient marine lizard that lived in the Earth’s oceans concurrently to when some species of dinosaurs walked the land.

Several species of Mosasaurs lived during the Late Cretaceous period. The species found in Duck Creek in Garland in 2008 was a Tylosaurus—one of the largest and most vicious of all the Mosasaurs growing up to 40 feet and weighing up to 8 tons. With an extra row of palatal teeth in the roof of its mouth to hold prey in place and move it down the throat, this Mosasaur was one of the reasons that the oceans of the time were a very dangerous place. 

After the bones were identified, the land owner, Charles Amyx, donated the bones to the Heard Museum. The Dallas Paleontological Society was notified of the find and organized a team to excavate the bones for the Heard Museum. The Society’s dig crew was led by Rocky Manning. 

The excavation of the bones from the creek took over 700 hours during two and a half years. Limestone blocks containing the bones were painstakingly cut and then taken to the Heard Museum to be prepped. The exaction was done under difficult conditions such as flooding at the site and working in 100-degree heat. 

Preparing the bones at the Heard also presented a large obstacle; there was not a prep lab at the Museum. The Dallas Paleo Society went to work to create a lab and prep the bones. Darlene Sumerfelt, a member of the excavation team, became the director and lead preparator at the lab, recruiting volunteers and using hand-me-down equipment to release the bones from the rock. Compressors were used to power airscribes that would slowly chip away at the rock to expose the fragile bones.  

The team members were the first humans to ever see these newly-exposed bones. With an all-volunteer team, over 4,000 hours were put into the preparation of the bones. The team worked year after year carefully removing all the surrounding rock.

When the prep was complete, the team then began next step in the process of taking fossilized bones from the ground to the museum floor—the exhibit display. Darlene and the prep team, including volunteers Richard and Joan Sheppard and Russell Sublette, then created all the mounts for the bones with only a very small budget to work with.  Many hours were spent in the lab brainstorming how to put these bones on display with a budget of $400. Many more hours were then spent creating the display mounts by hand. All cabinetry and informational panels were also done by the prep team. 

Darlene has now been with the project for 6 six years. She experienced a great sense of pride and achievement when she and the team moved the bones from the lab to the museum floor. She describes this project as being one of the most phenomenal volunteer projects ever completed. Hundreds of people were willing to give their time and talents to make this happen.   

Now it’s almost time for the debut! The exhibit will open to the public on Saturday, October 4th at the Heard Museum in McKinney, Texas. Activities start with a presentation on the Mosasaur Project at 1:30 p.m., with the grand opening immediately after.  

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