Editor’s Note: This issue we highlight Lorrie McWhinney & Angie Matthias, members of the Western Interior Paleontological Society. Lorrie and Angie are co-authors on one of our research articles this issue. You can find the formal report of their research in the June 2016 issue of the International Journal of Paleopathology.
Q: How did you first discover your passion for fossil collecting?
Lorrie: As a young girl I dreamed of working with Louis and Mary Leakey in Africa. Those dreams faded away over time; I got married and had a child. But a friend of mine kept talking about digging dinosaurs. My long-ago interests in anthropology soon developed into interests in paleontology. With no education in this field, I was not qualified to assist in any projects. However, my friend from Kaiser Permanente who was also a field volunteer with the University of California Museum of Paleontology, Dr. Jay Grimaldi, told me about a possible opportunity to join a Montana dinosaur field trip. The excitement I felt burned deep. I realized that being the first person to discover something new was the basis of my drive all along. In July 1994, I joined Dr. Jack Horner of Montana State University and Dr. Desmond Maxwell of University of California Museum of Paleontology with their crew that included my friend Dr. Grimaldi, at a site made famous by influential paleontologist Dr. John Ostrom. In 1964, Dr. Ostrom had discovered more fossil material of a dinosaur originally found by the paleontologist Barnum Brown, which was later named Deinonychus antirrhopus. The passion I found for paleontology while on this field opportunity was just a beginning of a lifetime of discoveries.
Angie: My passion for fossils first started with archaeology. I watched a documentary on Illinois archaeology in 1971 taking place in Kampsville, Illinois. It got me very interested in digging and I soon began volunteering as an excavator at the prehistoric Koster settlement site (http://users.stlcc.edu/mfuller/koster.html). Then, after I moved to Billings, Montana, I volunteered with a team that excavated a bison butchering pit. When I moved to Denver, Colorado, I did a little excavating at Lamb Springs Archaeological Preserve, but I was working full time and raising two sons. After my husband and I became empty nesters, I joined the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and completed their (now discontinued) Paleontology Certification program.
Q: How long have you been collecting fossils (i.e., when did you begin)?
Lorrie: In 1994, I helped in the collection of various dinosaur material from a site in Montana. Since then, I have assisted in many other field trips in the states of Montana, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
Angie: I went on my first paleontology field trip in 1994 through the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) and started collecting Eocene teeth of tiny mammals to add to the museum’s collection. At the time, the chief curator’s primary interest was Eocene primates.
Q: How do you identify/organize your fossils (i.e., which texts or other resources do you use, or which professional paleontologists do you consult)?
Lorrie: After the field trip in 1994, I contacted the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) to inquire about possible education and volunteering opportunities in the Earth Sciences department. I was told of the (now discontinued) Paleontology Certification program that was available to the community. Through this program and with additional classes through the museum, I learned skills necessary to assist in the complete process of finding, cleaning, and curating fossils. I volunteered in the museum’s fossil lab until 2012. Through my acquired skills and access to museum resources and paleontologists, I was able to identify and curate the fossils I found.
Angie: I gained my identification knowledge through the excellent paleontology certification program at DMNS. The program conducted weekly lab identification exercises using the specimens at the museum, plus we had several reading assignments each week. There were quite a few classes that were required for certification, so there was a lot a training. One of the classes was on curation of fossils, which is where I learned most of my ID skills. As for a personal fossil collection, I do not have an extensive private collection (and what I do have are all invertebrates). The federal laws are very strict here about collecting on public lands, and I get to see beautiful fossils at the museum anyway, so I prefer to volunteer for projects and field trips.
Q: When did you begin working with the Western Interior Paleontological Society? How many projects have you done in collaboration with professionals affiliated with the society?
Lorrie: I joined WIPS in 1994. Some of the projects I worked on included ‘Bones Galore’ with Dr. Russ Graham in New Raymer, Colorado, ‘Comanche Grasslands’ with Dr. Bruce Schumacher in La Junta, Colorado, ‘Porcupine Cave’ with Dr. Elaine Anderson, as well as projects with the United States Forest Service (USFS) in Chadron, Nebraska.
Angie: I joined WIPS in 1996 while volunteering for the ‘Porcupine Cave’ project which was a joint venture of WIPS and the DMNS. I have participated on several occasions over the years with the United States Forest Service in Chadron, Nebraska, in addition to working on the ‘Comanche Grasslands’ project in La Junta, Colorado, and at Custer State Park in Pringle, South Dakota. The Custer project started out as a joint venture with Pennsylvania State University because WIPS supplied the volunteers.
Q: What is your most favorite fossil that you discovered? Why?
Lorrie: I do not have a favorite fossil, for I love them all! But I must admit that the discovery of “Lorrie’s Site” was really exciting and I have many cherished memories from the years that DMNS ran field trips to the site.
Angie: My favorite fossil would be a multituberculate P4 molar. Multituberculates were rodent-like early mammals with distinctive teeth. I have never discovered one but the tooth is so unique and so primitive. The most dramatic fossil I discovered was a maxillary of an Eocene rhinoceros with a deciduous P3 molar. When I gently yanked on the tooth, I discovered the permanent tooth underneath!