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Dr. Matthew Bonnan lies next to the tibia (shin) of a giant sauropod dinosaur.
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(L) Ashley Morhardt, graduate student, and Hillary Parks, biology Honors student at Western Illinois University, lie next to a scapula (shoulder blade) of a sauropod dinosaur.
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WIU Paleontologist Hits "Pay Dirt" at Utah Dig Site

June 18, 2008

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MACOMB, IL - - Matthew Bonnan, a Western Illinois University associate biology professor who specializes in functional morphology and vertebrate paleobiology, recently returned from a dig site in Utah that he calls "absolutely amazing." So amazing, in fact, it made National Geographic News June 18.

Bonnan was tapped by the Burpee Museum of Natural History (Rockford, IL) to join their team because of his expertise in sauropods, the largest animals to ever walk on land. He received University funding for a van and fuel, and, along with five Western Illinois students - - who paid their food and lodging, he made the trek to the Morrison Formation near Hanksville, Utah.

The Western group was only there 10 days, but they unearthed more than 100 bones.

"It was really exciting. The site is a hay day of really big sauropods of the late Jurassic period, about 147 million years ago," Bonnan said. "This has the potential to be a very important site that will benefit everyone - - scientists, federal historical and heritage societies and the town of Hanksville."

Bonnan said the number and the concentration of bones as well as fossilized logs in the same area are what make the site so amazing.

"You typically don't find these things together, so it's an extraordinary site," he added. "This site gives us nearly endless possibilities to expand studies of dinosaur growth, to focus on what the environment was like and so much more."

Bonnan is no stranger to exciting excavations. He has been to Africa three times as part of a National Geographic funded expedition, as well as additional funding from several WIU sources. He also has received funding as an outside collaborator on a National Science Foundation grant.

Western Illinois students working onsite with Bonnan include: graduate biology student Ashley Morhardt and her husband, Dan, a history teacher; sophomore social work major Alexi Stauffer (Northbrook, IL); junior biology major Brad Wacker (Winnebago, IL); senior biology major Hillary Parks (Oakwood Hills, IL); and junior pre-med/biology major Sarah Reed (Rockford, IL).

Link to National Geographic article:

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