Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Vicky Dorvee

Dinosaurs of the Rocky Mountain West lecture at the Grange


April 21, 2019

Courtesy photo

Vertebrate paleontologist, Dr. Joe Sertich, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science working at the Thornton Torosaurus site.

Like a lot of kids, Dr. Joe Sertich had a thing for dinosaurs. But his childhood fascination didn’t subside and the Colorado native turned his inquisitiveness into a dino-lover’s dream career as a Curator of Dinosaurs. Now his life is filled with paleontological learning, researching, and the uncovering of bones for the same institute that fed his curiosity as a child, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS).

Thanks to the suggestion of Niwot volunteers who clean fossils at the museum’s lab, Sertich will be giving a lecture as part of the Niwot Historical Society’s series on Wednesday, April 24.

Sertich said, “Dinosaurs lived through a really amazing dynamic period in our history when the continents were rifting apart, the sea levels were changing, the climate was much warmer than today. So by studying those ecosystems we can learn about how evolution works, a lot about how the world is changing today and how our impact on the world is relevant in a broader, long-term context.”

Sertich’s presentation will be appropriate for all ages. It will feature Colorado’s rich history of dinosaur paleontology, highlighting recent discoveries and the prevalence of dinosaur remains in our area.

DMNS is one of the most active field research institutes in the country and is home to the recently discovered Torosaurus, as well as some of the first dinosaur specimens ever found about 100 years ago.

Sertich’s research takes him to exotic locations in Europe and Africa. But he’s mostly focused on the Rocky Mountain region - New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado where for paleontologists, there are bountiful opportunities for discoveries because there’s an ancient seaway that connects those areas. Dinosaur Ridge for instance, was the shore of that seaway.

The upcoming lecture will be accompanied by illustrative reconstructions of the ancient Rocky Mountains region, and in particular of Sertich’s favorite time in geologic years, the Cretaceous period. This stretch of history occurred toward the end of the era in which dinosaurs lived and as the landscape was heaving up to form the Rocky Mountains. Sertich said it’s a remarkable time when dinosaurs overlapped with more modern plant and animal groups like birds, snakes, and crocodiles, and flowering plants were starting to flourish.

“It’s a unique window into a time period that’s similar to today, but was dominated by dinosaurs instead of large mammals,” Sertich said.

Sertich got his bachelors of science degree at CSU, his masters degree at the University of Utah and then earned his Ph.D. at Stony Brook University in New York before returning to Colorado.

The day-to-day life of the Curator of Dinosaurs is split between planning and doing field research expeditions about four to five months a year and then cleaning the unearthed finds, writing about the discoveries, naming the dinosaurs, and collaborating with other scientists.

Discovered by a construction crew breaking ground at a Thornton housing development in September 2017, the Torosaurus is one of the most complete and rare horned dinosaurs ever found. When that type of event occurs, the museum is notified and Sertich goes to the scene where he and his crew can quickly do their paleontological excavation and then allow the construction project to proceed with very little delay.

Sertich said finding the Torosaurus underscored that Colorado is one of the most densely populated areas sitting on dinosaur bearing rocks and is one of the few places in the world where you can find dinosaur remains in your backyard.

“There are dinosaurs popping up all along the Front Range,” Sertich said citing the digging along Highway 36 that widened the road and led to finding a treasure trove of fossils and dinosaur parts.

The museum relies on almost 400 volunteers to help assist experts with digs around the country, to help in the laboratory, and with researching and publishing. For DMNS Paleontology volunteer opportunities, visit: http://www.dmns.org/support/volunteer-at-the-museum.

The Niwot Historical Society’s mission is to preserve, collect, and protect the history of Niwot and the surrounding area. To join the Niwot Historical Society, which is a 501(c)3 non- profit organization, an individual membership is $15 and families are $25. All donations are tax deductible. For additional information, please visit NiwotHistoricalSociety.org.


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