nd.gov - The Official Portal for North Dakota State Government
North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Jeff J. Person's blog

Moving Dakota, the Two-Ton Mummified Hadrosaur

On a snowy day in February 2008, the mummified hadrosaur Dakota arrived at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck without fanfare. It arrived in two large blocks and a few smaller packages. It had been trucked all the way from the NASA lab in southern California, where it had been CAT scanned.

We had to rent the largest forklift we could find in Bismarck to move the largest block (the body block) from the truck into the building. Despite this block weighing in excess of two tons, it was moved safely and without incident.

forlift moving dakota on a crate pallet in snowy landscape

Dakota being moved into the ND Heritage Center in 2008. The largest forklift we could rent in Bismarck had to be used to move the largest block of Dakota, the body block.

Dakota was then ushered down a long hallway into the paleontology lab, where paleontologists and specialists spent years removing hundreds of pounds of rock from the block encasing the never-before-seen dinosaur skin. A few years later, as work on the ND Heritage Center expansion began, Dakota was moved to a temporary home to keep it out of harm’s way. It retraced its path back down the same hallway it had travelled just a few years prior to a secondary lab next to the loading dock, where it had originally entered the building.

Over the next year, even more rock was removed from the large body block while we waited for the time to be right to move Dakota once again. That time came during summer 2013. Dakota travelled from its temporary home in the secondary paleo lab, once again down the same hallway.

six people moving dinomummy

Moving Dakota in 2013. This trip would take the block upstairs and into the hallway for exhibit.

This time, it was only to the freight elevator, a few short feet from where it once sat for nearly five years while specialists chipped away at rock, exposing fossilized skin. After a quick trip up the elevator, it was slowly moved toward its home in the Corridor of History outside the State Museum’s Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time.

six people moving dinomummy into place in gallery

Getting the final placement of Dakota for exhibit correct. This was done during the final touches on the ND Heritage Center expansion.

Uncovered dinomummy on display behind glass case

View of Dakota on exhibit from 2013 to 2019.

For the next six years Dakota sat on exhibit where tens of thousands of visitors a year gazed upon its exposed dinosaur skin, 66 million years in the making.

Our goal is to help the public best understand how important and rare Dakota is. Because of the skin preservation, Dakota has taught and is teaching us a great deal about dinosaurs we didn’t previously know. In order to better educate the public, we needed to revamp the Dakota exhibit. That means the larger body block needed to move . . . again. Many changes are happening to the Dakota exhibit, the largest of which has been the removal of the body block from display.

forklift moving dinomummy

Hauling Dakota down the ND Heritage Center & State Museum hallway toward the freight elevator. Wheels were permanently attached to Dakota to make it possible to haul with the forklift.

In late October 2019, the large body block was removed from exhibit and carefully wheeled down to the North Dakota State Fossil Collection room in the ND Heritage Center & State Museum lower level.

team pushing dinomummy

Dakota coming out of the freight elevator, on its way toward the paleontology lab and collections.

Team moving dinomummy down a long hallway

The last leg of Dakota’s journey was down this long hallway and into the paleontology lab.

The tail block, arm, and foot pieces will be moved back upstairs into a newly revamped exhibit that will be unveiled in the coming months.

Please come and visit us in spring 2020 and see all the changes to the Dakota exhibit.

Paleontology Outreach in the 21st Century

One of our key missions in the North Dakota Geological Survey paleontology department is to educate the public about the paleontology of North Dakota. Traditionally this has been done through a number of tried-and-tested methods such as exhibits, tours, and public lectures. However, due to the physical nature of these methods, the people on the receiving end of this outreach are primarily local. While it is very important to interest our fellow North Dakotans, we must reach a larger audience if we want to have a broader impact. Within the last two decades we have added the public fossil dig program as an important, hands-on means of reaching both North Dakota residents and nonresidents, and informing participants of the importance of North Dakota fossils. This program has proven successful, and we are reaching a large audience that includes both local participants and some from as far away as Italy! The public fossil dig program continues to grow and interest people from all over, but it can be hampered by the cost of travel to North Dakota for nonresidents. This is just the nature of the public fossil digs—in order to enjoy the excitement of physically helping us uncover our rich fossil history, you must travel to North Dakota.

Four people digging for fossils

Man in a red shirt sits next by exposed fossil and is digging to reveal more

Public Dig photos from various sites we visited in 2018. Come out and join us! A few spots still remain for 2019, visit 2019ndgspaleodigs.eventbrite.com for more information.

Local news stories are a great way to reach a larger audience without the burden of travel costs on the viewer. However, unless you are watching your television the moment the news story airs and you happen to live within the broadcast range of the news outlet, you might miss it. We have been featured on national television programs such as Dino Autopsy, NASA 360, Prehistoric Predators, and NBC’s Today Show, which is wonderful; but again, if you aren’t tuned in the moment it airs, you might miss it.

The advent of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and streaming (Facebook Live, Skype, and Twitch) has dramatically increased our opportunities for public outreach. Instead of blasting out information to a general audience, we can distribute our message with surgical precision to those who are really interested, and who will likely share it with other like-minded individuals.

We have started a video channel on Twitch where we post videos on a variety of topics of interest to aspiring paleontologists, young and old. From molding and casting fossils to just chatting about an upcoming exhibit while asking for feedback from viewers, this is a new platform to engage not only a local audience, but potentially a global one. A true benefit of posting videos in this way is they can easily be found and viewed by anyone at any time.

Video thumbnails from Twitch channel

The North Dakota Geological Survey Twitch page showing various videos available for viewing by anyone.

Lastly, we have started using the platform Skype as a way of conducting virtual tours of the vertebrate paleontology exhibits, labs, and collection areas. It also gives members of the public the opportunity to chat with paleontologists. Offering tours and video chats in this way completely eliminates the burden of travel on either party and allows us to reach a much larger audience. Although nothing beats seeing fossil preparation firsthand, watching a video on Twitch may serve to inspire a young person, student, or someone looking to fulfill a bucket list item to visit our great state and discover the fabulous fossils of North Dakota.