In the summer of 2011, Chris participated in a week-long paleontological dig in Jordan, Montana.
By this point, Chris had been studying paleontology for years, but that studying had come from reading, looking at fossils, and talking to people. Chris hadn’t ever worked in the field before, and it was time for him to get the hands-on experience of digging up and preparing fossils. The dig was run by the Paleoworld Research Foundation, which allows amateurs to pay to dig alongside Paleoworld’s professional staff. It is located in the original Hell Creek formation where the first Tyrannosaurus rex was found.
Over the period of a week, he found numerous small fossils, including teeth, fish scales, and innumerable bone chunks. He learned to dig, prospect, and prepare fossils alongside several other amateur dinosaur enthusiasts.
This was a very pure project, in some ways similar to but opposite from the Dinosaur Aesthetics lectures. The lectures are a pure communication of Chris’ ideas to others. Dig! Dig! was about him gaining pure knowledge from an experience, being the sole actor and sole audience. It was an unadulterated feedback loop, in which he gained direct experience and observed himself gaining that experience at the same time, being aware of both forms of input/learning simultaneously.
These two projects (Dig! Dig! and the Dinosaur Aesthetics lectures) are representative of the two different sides of Chris’ paleontology work as a whole as well as the diverging directions of two of conceptual and performance art’s leading lights, Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp, both of whom are implicated in the series’ name, The Paleontology of Chris Wildrick Is Overrated (which is named after Beuys’ artwork about Duchamp). The former grounded his work in a ringmaster’s action and extroverted energy, the latter in a chess master’s internal intellectual process. The Dinosaur Aesthetics lectures are an example of Chris work’s catalytic side, a la Beuys–projects intended to democratically spread knowledge–while Dig! Dig! is the best representation of the work’s Duchampian tendency, with its solitary mastery of a process for its own sake.
This project was funded by a Puffin Grant and a Syracuse Faculty Development Grant.
Some of the dig sites (the last one is the camp’s truck, stuck in Hell Creek itself):
Some of the fossils Chris found (including one close-up showing the holes in a bone where the blood vessels used to be):
Some bones still in the process of being dug up (the fourth one is a close-up of a possible T. rex tooth, seen in context in the third picture), and the process of plastering a bone:
Me on site and in the lab, cleaning off bones:
Local landscapes (the first two are the hill where the first T. rex was found; the third shows the K-T boundary–the black band of minerals running through the middle of the hill–which is the result of an asteroid hitting the earth, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs):