"Celebrating the Richness of Paleontology through Fossil Hunting"

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Article written by: Jayson Kowinsky -

Hell Creek Dinosaur Fossil Hunt

Digging for Dinosaurs in the Hell Creek Formation

Excavating an Edmontosaurus dinosaur rib

Excavating an Edmontosaurus dinosaur rib. The rib ended up being approximately 3 feet in length, and was my best find of the trip.


Video of the Dinosaur Fossil Hunt in the Hell Creek formation of South Dakota. (Vertical video - best seen on smartphones)

The Fossil Trip:

After fossil hunting in the world-famous Hell Creek formation for dinosaurs a few years back, I got the dinosaur bug. I needed to find more dinosaur teeth and bones! To feed the need, I returned to dig with Walter Stein of Paleoadventures Dinosaur Digs this past summer in the Hell Creek Formation.

The Hell Creek Formation

The Hell Creek is one of the most famous dinosaur bearing formations in the world. It is a late Cretaceous formation that contains the KT boundary. This boundary marks the extinction of the dinosaurs and occurs near the contact between the Hell Creek and the overlaying Fort Union Group.

The Hell Creek runs for roughly 700 km from east to west (Kirk 2002), and is exposed in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The thickness is around 100 m toward the western end and thins toward the east to about 50-60 m (Murphy et al, 1995). The eastern most part of the Hell Creek contains intermittent marine beds. These marine beds mark the shore of the Western Interior Seaway at the very end of the Cretaceous. Similar formations include the Lance formation in Wyoming and the Frenchman and Scollard Formations in Canada.

Tooth Draw Quarry: The Hunting Location

One of the sections that Walter Stein digs at is a typical lag deposit called Tooth Draw Quarry. It is a preserved river bed, complete with water worn pebbles and sand. Since it was a river system, it contains many fossils of fish, turtles, and crocodiles. However, it also contains dinosaur fossils. These dinosaur remains are almost always isolated bones and teeth that have tumbled down the river.

These are typical fossils found amung the rounded clay pebbles and sand of the Hell Creek Formation. Fossils include gar fish scales, turtle and crocodile scute fragments, small crocodile teeth, and small water tumbled dinosaur bone fragments.

The Trip

On the previous trip with Walter I found a small nanotyrannus tooth, some nice triceratops teeth, and an edmontosaurus jaw section. This trip I was hoping to find a complete articulated juvenile T rex skeleton... however, I would settle for some more teeth and bones!

During the first day, Amy (my fossil hunting compadre) and I, excavated an area slightly west of tooth draw, called... wait for it... Tooth Draw West. Here I found a small T rex tooth, and a tiny edmontosaurus vertebra, and lots of other bones. The tooth, although small, had some interesting facet wear on it and looks nice im my collection!

For the next two days, we moved onto tooth draw and found a nice area to excavate. Here I found a broken raptor tooth, some more dinosaur bone pieces, including a small piece of a hadrosaur jaw, and also a long bone. The bone was long... it kept going... soon we realized it was a dinosaur rib. The rib snaked it's way into the formation, requiring lots of excavation work. For the rest of the trip we excavated the bone, which ended up being around 3 feet in length.

We ran out of time to jacket it, so kind Walter jacketed it for us, packed it up in an Indiana Jones type crate and shipped it to us. After receiving the jacket and prepping it, it turned out to be a beautiful 3 foot edmontosaurus dorsal rib, probably the 5th to 8th dorsel rib. It is broken at the tubercle and articular facet, so the head is mostly missing, and it looks like a small amount of the anterior section is also missing. But the rest of the fossil is in very beautiful shape and makes for a great specimen!

Checkout the prep sequence video below and images of the other fossils found during the trip!

Fossils Found, more videos, and other pics from the Dinosaur Hunt


Time-lapse Video of the Edmontosaurus Dinosaur Rib Preparation (Vertical video - best seen on smartphones)

The Badlands around the Tooth Draw quarry that Walter of Paleoadventures excavates.

This is a beautiful Tyrannosaurus rex tooth found at the location. I did not find this one!

This is another beautiful Tyrannosaurus rex tooth found. This picture was taken just as it was uncovered. I didn't find this one either. This tooth is a little over 2 inches.

Yet another Tyrannosaurus rex tooth found. This is another beautiful tooth. Not found by me.

This is the Tyranosaurus rex tooth as found in the matrix. It was wedged between two pebbles and broken. It's an odd tooth position, possibly a premaxilary tooth, but still a nice find for me.

Edmontosaurus 'spitter' teeth. These are heavily worn teeth that are shed from their mouths. They are fairly common in the Hell Creek.

This is a broken raptor dinosaur tooth. It cleaned up pretty good... but it's still broken!

This is the Edmontosaurus fossil rib being excavated.

This is the prepped Edmontosaurus dinosaur rib I found. It's approximately 3 feet in length, and is a Dorsal rib from the 5th to 8th position.

Here is Paleoadventures field station. They have a nice prep lab, a life sized ithyosaur fossil (not shown here), and lots of other cool things to see!

If you want to go on a dig like this, check out Paleoadventures!

Paleoadventures Dinosaur Digs

The Black Hills

If you decide to go digging with Paleoadventures, remember to spend a few extra days in the area. From a buffalo herd, historic Deadwood, the Black Hills institute, scenic hiking, horseback riding, needles road, to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazyhorse memorial, the Black Hills has a lot to offer!

Spearfish Canyon, just south of Deadwood, offers scenic hiking.

Custer Park in the southern Black Hills has a large free-roaming herd of buffalo.

While out west, one might as well go to Montana to a working cattle ranch and herd cattle!

Don't foget to check out the 1000's of Prairie dogs at the base of Devils Tower!

Although the picture doesn't to them justice, stadium tips, or ranchers tips, are a staple of South Dakota bars. One of the best places to try them is "Stadium Sports Grill" in Belle Fourche!


Johnson, Kirk R. Nichols , Douglas J., Hartman, Joseph H. 2002. "Hell Creek Formation: A 2001 synthesis", The Hell Creek Formation and the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in the northern Great Plains: An Integrated continental record of the end of the Cretaceous, Joseph H. Hartman, Kirk R. Johnson, Douglas J. Nichols

Murphy, E.C., Nichols, D.J., Hoganson, J.W., and Forsman, N.F. 1995, The Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary in south-central North Dakota: North Dakota Geological Survey Report of Investigations 98, 74 p

Pearson, Dean A., Schaefer, Terry, Johnson, Kirk R., Nichols, Douglas J. Hunter, John P. 2002. "Vertebrate biostratigraphy of the Hell Creek formation in southwestern North Dakota and northwestern South Dakota." The Hell Creek Formation and the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in the northern Great Plains: An Integrated continental record of the end of the Cretaceous, Joseph H. Hartman, Kirk R. Johnson, Douglas J. Nichols

Recommended Books and Fossils:

High quality Dinosaur teeth by Fossilera

Dinosaurs Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution in Paleontology
by Michael J. Benton, 2019
This is a great general book on dinosaurs. It's up to date and goes over the new discoveries over the last 20 years that has completely changed our views on dinosaurs. The book is broken up into easy chapters that goes over their colors, speeds, bite force, child caring, and more... stuff we didn't know just years ago! Check out the reviews and the sample pages.

Dinosaurs - The Grand Tour: by Keiron Pim (Author), and Jack Horner (Contributor) - 2016
This richly illustrated paperback has the latest research on dinosaurs, feathers and all! It's a great book to learn about the life of dinosaurs!

Elenco Science Tech T-Rex Skeleton 36" Scale Replica Model
This is a 3 foot, true to scale, Tyrannosaurus skeleton with 51 realistic pieces. This is one of the most realistic replicas I have found on the internet. It's an awesome educational piece for any T-rex fanatic, young or old!

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