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Unearth New Mexico’s prehistoric past

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s rocky, eroded landscape hides fossils that attracts dinosaur hunters from all over the world.

“It was quite a thrill,” recalls engineer Rodney Peterson of finding a fossil west of Albuquerque more than 50 years ago.

It was later identified as a 3-foot piece of vertebrae from a giant plant-eating dinosaur, about 150 million years old, he says.

“I didn’t have to worry about it going anywhere. We had to use jackhammers and diamond saws to get it out,” says Peterson, 84, of Albuquerque.


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The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science wants visitors to share that wonder of dinosaur discovery and adventure.

Paleontologist and curator Spencer Lucas says each month the ongoing exhibit “Dinosaur Century: 100 Years of Discovery in New Mexico” will feature prominent finds in paleontology.

Dinosaur Century: 100 Years of Discovery in New Mexico
WHEN: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; ongoing exhibit with featured fossils every month through December
WHERE: New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, 1801 Mountain NW
HOW MUCH: $7 adults, $6 seniors, $4 ages 3-12. For more information, visit

The museum will highlight Peterson’s find Saturday. The bone bed, named the Peterson Quarry, after the dedicated volunteer dinosaur hunter, holds hundreds of fossils. The ongoing excavation is one of the largest of its kind in the state from the late Jurassic period, Lucas says.

“We want to portray why those discoveries were so important,” Lucas says. “Each month visitors can see fossils that have never before been displayed.” The exhibit is part of the state’s Centennial celebration.

The dry climate and rock formations of the state preserve fossils like few other places in the world, he says. “New Mexico is a magnet for dinosaur collectors,” Lucas says.

Since the 1880s dinosaur hunters have collected fossils in New Mexico that have helped scientists learn much of what they know about dinosaurs: how they evolved and lived and why they became extinct.

New Mexico fossil discoveries from all three periods of the age of dinosaurs, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, accelerated after the opening of the museum in the 1980s, according to the exhibit’s timeline.

The exhibit will help make the millions of years of New Mexico’s steamy dinosaur world more readily accessible, Lucas says.


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For example, the Bisti Beast, one of the meat-eating tyrannosaurs unique to the state, will debut in the exhibit May 19.

Research assistant and volunteer Paul Sealey of Placitas was in the badlands prospecting dinosaur bones 15 years ago when he discovered the fossils: a lower jawbone with a tooth and then ribs and a femur.

“I was by myself, prospecting,” recalls Sealey of his adventure. “I knew what I was looking for. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years.”

In the museum’s lab, a beak from one of the armored dinosaurs will soon be reassembled with the rest of its fossilized parts encased in a plaster jacket.

As fossils are excavated they are preserved in plaster casts for safe transport back to the museum, Lucas says.

Volunteers, like Peterson and Sealey, are a large part of the museum’s efforts, says executive director Charles Walter.

“Last year volunteers contributed 36,000 hours to the museum. That is the equivalent of 20 full-time staff jobs,” Walter says. “They help bring the past back to life.”