MAVERICK SCIENCE
  The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science Fall 2010  
Dino Dig
Dig chief Roger Fry, center, examines a portion of turtle fossil uncovered by volunteer diggers as UT Arlington lecturer Derek Main, left, logs the coordinates of the find in his notebook and site co-founder Art Sahlstein, right, looks on.
Uncovering buried treasure
     The site was discovered purely by chance in January 2003. Sahlstein, a spiritual man who works as a network administrator in Fort Worth and is also director of children's ministry at South Euless Baptist Church, has long been in the habit of walking the site, which is near his home. He often watches the sun rise over the prairie and uses the walks as a time to clear his mind and pray.
     "It was a Sunday, and my daughter, Olivia, and I were on one of my prayer walks, looking for Native American artifacts," Sahlstein said. "She was sitting on the hillside and felt something poking her. She picked this thing up, looked at it and asked me if it was a dinosaur bone. Well, it was – they were all over the place."
The Arlington Archosaur Site needs donations and volunteers to help dig at the site. To learn more, to donate or to buy T-shirts, hats and other AAS-related merchandise, go to arlingtonarchosaursite.com
For upcoming dig dates and other information, go to the group's page on Facebook, The Arlington Archosaur Site.
     Sahlstein, who was born in Duluth, Minnesota and grew up in Nebraska and in Europe, moved to Texas in 1979. He has always had an interest in "old, ancient stuff," he says, and used to tag along when his sister, who's now an archeologist and anthropologist, would go on digs. After he and Olivia discovered fossils at the AAS, he got in touch with officials at the Fort Worth Science and History Museum, and also contacted Louis Jacobs, a renowned professor and paleontologist at Southern Methodist University. At first, interest was limited.
     Around the same time, UT Arlington students Phil Kirchhoff and Bill Walker were fossil hunting on the land and also found some dinosaur remains. They took their findings to UT Arlington Earth and Environmental Sciences professor Christopher Scotese, who in turn got Main – one of his students – involved.
     "The first time I saw the site was in October 2003, and my initial thoughts were surprise at how humble looking a site it was," Main said. "It was a very unassuming place, not at all what I thought it would be. But then, the first time I walked across the hillside and found several crocodile fossils, I was hooked."
     Sahlstein, Kirchhoff and Walker mutually agreed to share credit for discovery of the site. But any hopes they or anyone else had of getting serious about uncovering the site's mysteries were dashed by the landowner, who flatly refused to allow any excavation work. "That was incredibly frustrating, because here we had this site that had who knows how many fossils just sitting there, and we couldn't touch it," Main said.
     Then, in 2007, Huffines bought the land and made UT Arlington the primary research institution and sole proprietor for all fossils found at the site. Excavation began in the spring of 2008. Main was soon in demand for presentations about the site, and it was at one such event in June 2008 that Fry, an operations manager for an area staffing company, first learned about the AAS.
     "Derek was asking for volunteers to help dig, and I said I wanted to help," Fry said. "He basically ignored me, so I asked again. I'm not one who's easily ignored."
     Fry was born in Peoria, Illinois but said he always knew he'd end up in Texas. He got a degree in political science from Bradley University, but his love of paleontology dates to his childhood, when his parents took him to the Field Museum in Chicago and bought him some books on dinosaurs.
     "I remember we went to Texas on vacation, and I came home and told my neighbor that when I grew up, I was going to move to Texas and dig for dinosaurs," Fry said. "And I was going to use dynamite."
     Fry's premonition – minus the TNT – proved correct. He moved to Texas in 1986, and in 1993, he became involved in excavations at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose. Dinosaur tracks found there in the Paluxy River are among the best preserved in the world.
     Fry made his first visit to the AAS on August 2, 2008 – he knows the date because he keeps highly detailed notes of every dig and every fossil found. Work at the site was becoming more involved, with an increasing number of volunteer diggers, and Main quickly realized that Fry's attention to detail was a great asset. Fry became dig chief in early 2009. He's also the chief preparator of specimens once they're taken from the site back to UT Arlington.
     The fossils recovered from the site are kept in the Geoscience Building at UT Arlington until they can be prepared for study. In a large closet, specimens are stored on shelves, wrapped in aluminum foil inside plastic bags along with note cards containing detailed information about where and when each item was found. Main's students and volunteers painstakingly clean the fossils with everything from toothpicks to paintbrushes and dental instruments. Once cleaned, the specimens are placed by category in large metal cabinets. Main will include many of the specimens in his doctoral thesis.
     Extensive study must be done on the fossils and then the studies must be published before any new species can be officially recognized.
     "There's enough here to make an entire career out of," Main said with a laugh.

Preserving the past
     Volunteers are always welcome at the site, Main said, as are donations.
     "I'm looking for donors and funds," Main said. "With support, we could expand and do more than what we currently are at the site. For the time being, my all-volunteer crew and I are doing the best we can with what we have."
     Sahlstein would like to see about 15 acres of the AAS site, including the hillside area where most of the major finds have been made, turned into a historical preserve with a museum.
     "That way, future generations can come here and walk around the site and know what used to be here," he said.
     Main, Sahlstein, Fry and their crew of dedicated volunteers will keep digging until they run out of time, trying to bring some more ancient history to life.
     "Working on this project is the culmination of a lifelong dream," Fry said. "I've always had a love of science and dinosaurs, and I feel so lucky to be able to play a small part in this project and work with these great people."
     Added Main, "The Arlington Archosaur Site has been an amazing experience for me, both personally and professionally. Professionally, working on Arlington's first and only dinosaur dig has been marvelous. Beyond that, the broad diversity of fossils found makes the AAS so much more than just another dino-dig. Personally, the project has been a marvelous journey for me in that I have met some truly wonderful people.
     "What's so amazing about this project is not only that it's a complete ecosystem we're finding there, but the fact that you can't find a lot of this stuff anywhere else in the world. And we're not done yet, not by a long shot."
Dino Dig
This drawing depicts Protohadros, a genus of dinosaur from the late Cretaceous period. Fossils believed to be from a Protohadros have been found at the Arlington Archosaur Site. Illustration by Clinton Crowley.