Three men excavate a dinosaur skull from the earth
An Apatosaurus skull, only the fourth known, is excavated from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in Rabbit Valley.


CMU Intern helps excavate rare dinosaur skull

Introductions. Being assigned a small desk in the corner. Paperwork. These are the types of experiences most interns encounter on their first day.

Ian Gardner, a Colorado Mesa University student, helped unearth an extremely rare Apatosaurus skull from the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in Rabbit Valley this past June on his first day. Gardner a double major in geosciences and biology at CMU has interned at the Dinosaur Journey Museum for the past few months.

The rare skull was originally discovered by an 8-year-old boy and his grandmother that were volunteering in the “dino dig” program. 

“The younger boy took a piece of the jaw with a rock that he through in the talus pile, which happens a lot,” Gardner said. “I had to dig through the talus pile but I found it pretty quick.”

Gardner along with Museums of Western Colorado staff and volunteers spent the next two months excavating the skull.  One of the trickier aspects of the excavation process is the snout of the dinosaur remains was under a four-foot section of a rock wall.

“Ian would just work that wall down, day after day,” Julia McHugh, Museums of Western Colorado Curator of Paleontology and CMU Instructor of Geology said. “We had vandals over the 4th of July weekend, so we were all really anxious to get the skull out.”

On August 19 of this year, the skull was fully excavated and taken to the Dinosaur Journey Museum paleontology lab.

Staff will prepare the skull over the next few months and McHugh hopes the skull will be fully prepped by early spring. Gardner said, he doesn’t believe he will help during the prepping process since the skull is very delicate and rare.  There are only three fairly complete Apatosaurus skulls known, and this is the fourth.  He will, however, continue his internship including his favorite project of reconstructing a 50-million-year old fossilized turtle shell. 

“There are all different ways CMU students can intern at the museum,” said Hugh. “It really is the perfect partnership.”


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