For more than four years, University of Texas at Arlington graduate student Derek Main led the excavation of the Arlington Archosaur Site, where about 1,200 fossils had been unearthed since the spring of 2008.But finding something valuable and preserving it properly are separate challenges. UT Arlington officials made no bones that they had neither the facilities nor the faculty for paleontology.Main had been seeking a permanent home for the collection when he died unexpectedly June 4. The wealth of fossilized remains from the Cretaceous period can now be found at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.The archosaur site “exists from a period of time where we have very little fossil record, and anything that is discovered from that period is important,” said Christopher Noto, a longtime friend and collaborator of Main’s who finalized the arrangement and oversaw the transfer. The 10-acre dig site inside the Viridian master-planned community in north Arlington yielded fossils including dinosaurs, sharks, turtles and previously unknown species of large crocodile and amphibious lungfish. Noto, an assistant professor in biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, plans to reopen it this fall.Fossils were housed in eight storage cases at the geology department as a part of Main’s dissertation. But with no long-term facilities to preserve them and no paleontologists among the UTA faculty, said Merlynd Nestell, an earth and environmental sciences professor, the fossils needed a new home once Main graduated.After the deal with Perot was struck came the delicate and detailed process of organizing, cataloging and packing them for the move.“These fossils have survived 95 million years. It would be bad if they were damaged in that last couple of days,” said Ron Tykowski, a Perot paleontologist.Volunteers drove the fossils from Arlington to Dallas in one big caravan.“It was exciting because it meant starting the next chapter for the archosaur site, [and it was] relieving because the fossils finally had a home,” Noto said. “But there was a great deal of sadness because it marked the end of really what was Derek’s term of the site and the fossils. We were cleaning out space that he had helped put together.” New dig groupUnder Main’s watch, the archosaur — or “ruling reptile” — dig site was much less restrictive to the public than many other dig sites of that caliber, said Art Sahlstein, caretaker and one of the discoverers of the site. That could change under Noto, who made several visits a year to work with Main. He will now travel to Texas in the summer to do larger-scale digs and will rely on a group of people to run small digs for experienced volunteers. “It’s unusual,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t think anything much like this has ever been done before.”Inexperienced volunteers will not be allowed, but he is looking to create a training program for them that would provide a pathway. And he plans to host public events where people can take tours and learn the history of the dig site. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST