July 4, 2009
Last summer, Indiana business executive Tom Ollier was looking for places to pan for gold during his annual vacation to his log house in Divide. While driving near Fairplay, he came upon a road cut where he saw, buried in a layer of clay, something he was sure was a dinosaur egg.
He dug for hours to free the egg and what he believed to be dinosaur bones. Suddenly, Indiana Tourist thought he'd become Indiana Jones.
"I found several hundred bones," Ollier said. "I was pretty excited when I found them."
He dropped by the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park to get an opinion of his discovery and sent photos to scientists at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to authenticate the bones.
But these were not 67-million-year-old fossils of some prehistoric creature. Anthony Maltese, curator at the Dinosaur Resource Center, said Ollier had unearthed concretions, the equivalent of fool's gold in the fossil world.
In other words: rock.
Experts say it's a common geological formation that occurs in sedimentary rock, especially in Colorado shale layers.
"We get a lot of concretions around here," Maltese said, citing Red Rocks Canyon as a spot that produces many of them. "A lot of people find them and bring them in for identification."
Like Ollier, they often spend hours doing back-breaking work to free the concretions from clay and start imagining themselves in Jurassic Park. And, like Ollier, they find out they're still in Colorado.
"A lot of people don't take that too well," Maltese said. They have spent hours and hours getting concretions out of the ground. Often they don't believe you."
Maybe it's because the concretions look so much like eggs and bones.
Maltese said they're created when water moves through the ground and deposits minerals. Sometimes the minerals collect around an object such as a sharks tooth or a plant or even a grain of sand.
Usually, the concretions are egg-shaped with layers and layers of minerals that can peel off when unearthed.
Concretions are so common that hucksters often sell them online as dinosaur eggs, and sites such as eBay have scientists looking for fraudulent postings.
One man from the Colorado Springs area was so convinced he had dinosaur bones that he glued them together to create a skeleton of a paddlefish dinosaur and got local television news to do feature stories on his "discovery."
Maltese said he simply couldn't accept the truth.
"He had reassembled them into something that looked like a skeleton and went around claiming he had found a skeleton," Maltese said. "He honestly thought he had found one. He refused to believe he had anything different."
Maltese said people regularly bring concretions to the Resource Center, especially this time of year.
"We get a few people a month, maybe even a couple every week in the summer," he said. "Concretions tend to emerge after a good rainstorm and there's been a little bit of erosion. That's the prime time to discover stuff."
And he welcomes the walk-ins because you never know what they'll have.
"I'd say, 99.9 percent of the time people have concretions," he said. "But other times, amateurs can stumble onto great discoveries."
Ollier, meanwhile, has grudgingly accepted the truth that the buckets of bones and eggs at his vacation house are just rocks. But even he sounds a tad unconvinced, and perhaps holds a flicker of hope that the experts are wrong.
"They definitely look like some kind of bones," Ollier said.