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Museum visitors can dig for 'bones' in mock site

The study of archeology got a big boost when movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Laura Croft: Tomb Raider" were on the big screen.

The idea of adventure, action and discovery fired up young people's ideas of a future career pathway. 

The reality is that "what we run into is it is great to dig, but 90 percent of the work is here in the lab; 10 percent is out in the field," said Debra Baker, archeologist at the Institute/Museum of the Great Plains, adding that when items are researched in the lab, "you are able to take it to a more detailed level."

Visitors to the Museum of the Great Plains can experience both the excitement of digging for bones and other objects in a mock dig site based on the Dobebo Paleo-Indian mammoth kill site. A fake rib bone and a thigh and other bones are actually buried in the site, which gives visitors the impression they are in a deep pit in Caddo County where the site was found in 1961 by J.E. Patterson. An emergency grant from the National Science Foundation allowed for about 4,000 fossils and objects to be moved from the site to the museum for storage beginning in 1962. 

Visitors to the museum can learn about the fascinating details discovered when artifacts are researched and view an actual mammoth fossil from the Domebo site alongside facsimile Clovis points. For more information about the history of the Domebo site and the storage of the items at the museum, visit www.institutegreatplains.org.

At the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the wooden box containing the found ark is stored away in a seemingly endless storage room, maybe to be lost again. 

The challenge is that lack of funding can prohibit actual in-lab research efforts. In museums everywhere, boxes, bags and containers of materials from archeological sites fill basements and other storage areas  much of the material not researched after the initial discovery of the site, Baker said. 

To keep artifacts and fossils with their undiscovered stories from being lost in a stack of containers, archeologists like Baker and her assistant curators are working  when funding and personnel are available  to catalog each item and stabilize the fossils and artifacts so they don't deteriorate before research can be performed. 

Items that are brought into the museum from digs and items already stored there have to be preserved, Baker said. "If we see something when they bring (samples for a site) surrounded by plaster of Paris or newspaper, that is what you don't want surrounding the bone" because that material leads to the fossil breaking apart. 

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