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The Missouri Dinosaur Story

In 1942, a geologist named Dan Stewart, who worked for the Missouri Geologic Survey, was doing field exploration for clay deposits in Bollinger county. One day he was examining an outcrop of clay in a creek bank when a young boy poked his head over the top of the bank and asked what Dan was doing. When the boy heard that Dan was looking for clay, he told him that his family had found some in the process of digging a cistern.  So Dan followed the boy to investigate.

Replicas of the original tail bones found in 1942

Much to his surprise, the boy's mother showed him some large bones that they had found in the clay. Dan searched the other piles of clay further and found more bones.  A total of 14 tail bones (vertebrae) were found, as well as a few other bone fragments. Dan asked Mrs. Chronister if he could take the bones to have them examined by experts, and she agreed. Later the Smithsonian Institution paid her a tidy sum of $50 dollars for these bones and she used the money to buy a cow.



Charles Gilmore looking for fossils in the Badlands
Eventually, they were sent to the Smithsonian where Dr. Charles Gilmore, a dinosaur expert, identified them as belonging to a dinosaur which he believed was new to science. In 1945, a paper was published in the Journal of Paleontology by Gilmore and Stewart in which this dinosaur was named
Neosaurus missouriensis, and described as probably being a sauropod - a large plant eating dinosaur with a massive body, long tail, long neck and small head - such as Brontosaurus (Apatosaurus) or Diplodocus.

Shortly after the paper was published, it was discovered that the name Neosaurus had previously been assigned to another animal by a Russian paleontologist, and therefore could not be used for the Missouri genus. Gilmore changed the name to Parrosaurus missouriensis in 1945. He died shortly afterward and did not get a chance to visit the site for further study.

Then in the late 1970's, two dinosaur experts, Baird and Horner, examined the Missouri dinosaur fossils in the Smithsonian, and decided that they were from the same kind of animal as a dinosaur called "Hypsibema crassicauda," described by E.D. Cope in the late 1800's from bones found in North Carolina. They kept the species name that Gilmore had assigned and agreed with him that it was probably a sauropod. They published their conclusions in a 1979 paper entitled "Cretaceous Dinosaurs of North Carolina," and so Hypsibema missouriense became the new name for this enigmatic beast.

In the 1980's, Dr. Stinchcomb, with assistance from Dr. David Parris and Dr. Barbara Grandstaff of the New Jersey State Museum, conducted a series of test excavations to determine if more dinosaur material was present and the extent of the clay. A number of dinosaur bones were recovered, as well as fossils of turtles, crocodiles, and fish. These new fossils made it possible for Dr. Parris and Dr. Grandstaff to determine that Hypsibema is not a sauropod after all, but rather a hadrosaur. Hadrosaurs are also called "duck-billed" dinosaurs because their snout superficially resembles a duck's bill.

In 1989 Guy Darrough and Michael Fix obtained permission from Dr. Stinchcomb to conduct an excavation within a protective enclosure. The enclosure was necessary because the clay deposit holds water. Beginning in 1990, the excavation was conducted by an all volunteer crew. More bones of Hypsibema were recovered including vertebrae, and fragments of the pelvis.  Also, fossils of two other types of dinosaurs were found at the site. One of these is a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, and the other is related to Velociraptor.

In July of 1999, the dig project became legally incorporated in the State of Missouri as a not-for-profit foundation called "The Missouri Ozark Dinosaur Project Inc."

Also, in 1999 a 20 ft. by 36 1/2 ft. greenhouse was erected over the dig site which allows for year round excavation.  This new enclosure is equipped with a sixty square meter hanging grid for precise mapping of specimens.  Aportable meter square, with laser assisted measuring device, is used with the hanging grid for precise mapping.  At this time the original Chronister house was renovated by project members to use as a base of operations. Amenities include: a kitchen with a stove, oven, and sink, an outdoor shower and an outhouse. 

Since 1999 to the present, the Chronister site continues to yield significant fossils of dinosaurs, turtles, amphibians and fish.

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