Rediscovering the Lost World

The Morrison Natural History Museum gives visitors a hands-on look at homegrown fossils—including the original Stegosaurus—that could change everything we thought we knew about dinosaurs.

April 2010

In my 33 years, I've been asked to clean my dinner plate, to clean my garage, and to clean up my act. Never have I been asked to clean a dinosaur. That is, until Fritz Gottron hands me the tool.

We're in the second-floor prep room at the Morrison Natural History Museum, and a football-size chunk of fossilized stegosaur encased in sandstone sits on the table in front of me. Gottron, a retired coal executive and museum volunteer, activates the pen-size mini-jackhammer, and the room fills with a dentist-office whir. When he passes the device to me, I balk.

"Are you sure I should be doing this?"

"It's idiot-proof," Gottron assures me.

"Well, then, you don't know me."

Ordinarily I'd rip into this 146-million-year-old bad boy like a third-grader, but this is no ordinary stegosaur. You see, 133 years ago, this fossil was taken from a dig site along the Dakota Hogback just outside town. It's from a pretty important stegosaur—the first-ever found in the world. As in, it's a really big deal. As in, I'm kind of freaking out.

I push the tool's power button and it hums with the portent of small-scale destruction. I let out a deep breath and look toward Gottron.

"Idiot-proof," he reminds me.