Little Snowy Mountains
Little Snowy Mountains, Montana, Summer 2013
Dr. Armstrong Pearl reached beneath the fossilized remains of the sauropod's tenth cervical vertebra, and ran his fingers over the smooth surface of what felt like a cranium. Beads of sweat coalesced into streams that ran along his temples, seeped into the gullies and rills of his weathered neck, and emptied into the growing lake of a stain on his tan khaki shirt front.
Each summer, he joined a group of intrepid souls interested in paleontology and willing to donate time and energy to one of the Little Snowy Mountain Institute's digs. The sixty-five million year old sauropod fossil was this year's focus—which put it about fifty-five million years ahead of the first hominids. What exactly were his fingers caressing?
"Whatcha got there, Armstrong?"
He brushed a handful of dirt back onto the skull. "Aw, nothing. Just trying to get under this vertebra, Johansen."
"Careful you don't get stuck and make us dig you out." Johansen chuckled at his remark. "We're closin' shop in a few minutes, so
wrap things up." Armstrong watched the man wander off.
Long shadows caressed the exposed vertebrae. He reached down and slipped his finger below the nasal bone. With one eye he saw other team members rising to join Johansen. The skull could be the find of the century. He clawed away some more loose dirt, wincing as his hand caught between rock and bone. His forefinger ran along the smooth edges of an alveolar margin and descended to the
The group following Johansen was nearly out of sight. His fingertip curled around a tooth, and tugged it loose. As he rose, he tossed a scoop of dirt over the skull. When he held up the specimen for a closer look, he squeezed his eyes shut, took in a deep breath, and looked again. It was a human canine, and it sported a ceramic crown.