Nathan Cochran ’23 cleans Triceratops snout in paleo lab
Since fall 2023, Nathan Cochran ’23, a biology major in the paleontology track, has been hired as a departmental fellow. Instead of cleaning beakers and preparing gels in the sterile setting of a biology lab, he’s been stirring up the dust in the basement of the Dinosaur Discovery Museum (DDM) in downtown Kenosha.
Nathan’s job in the Carthage Institute of Paleontology (CIP), the lab in the DDM basement, has been to prep out a Triceratops snout that was collected during a CIP expedition to southeastern Montana in 2015. The fossil was collected from public land, which is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
The fascinating fossil was discovered by Justin Coats ’16, a student in the paleontology field course that is co-led by Carthage’s own Professor Thomas Carr and Megan Seitz. Justin first spotted some bone fragments on a cliffside and followed them to their source — what turned out to be a Triceratops snout, complete with a nose horn and lower jaw! Excavation of the snout included the team of students who eventually put a field jacket around the fossil for safe travel. The heavy jacket was hand-carried down a steep trail to a waiting ATV for safe transport.
Since its arrival in the research collections of the DDM, the jacket has patiently awaited the right moment for preparation. That moment arrived last September when the jacket was wheeled out for Nathan Cochran to open the jacket and begin the process of preparation and conservation. In the field, the snout was cleaned of the overlying rock, but a view of the underside was not possible then; in the lab, field jackets are usually opened from the bottom.
Once Nathan cleared away the loose rock to get to the snout, he ran into concrete-hard rocks, called concretions, under the snout. The concretions were so large and hard that they managed to break an air scribe tip (pen-sized, air-driven jackhammer)! Despite that setback, Nathan has brought the edges of the snout into view, but the concretions have proven to be a stubborn snag. Nathan graduates this semester, and the baton will be passed along to a future student!
In addition to his time with the snout, Nathan was instrumental in completing several other projects, including the palate bone of a different Triceratops, nicknamed the McAlhany trike, a dinosaur tibia (shin bone), and sections of turtle shell. Prof. Carr and Ms. Seitz are very proud to offer this sort of opportunity to undergraduate students. Such lab experience is essential for their continued progress in the field of paleontology, wherever that leads them.
Sponsoring Department, Office, or Organization:
Carthage Institute of Paleontology