Va. Girl finds dinosaur bone at park in Maryland

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If there were any doubts that dinosaurs once roamed Prince George's County, a 9-year-old girl may have put them to rest.

On Saturday, just the second time the newly named Dinosaur Park, south of Laurel, was open to the public, fourth-grader Gabrielle Block stumbled on a tail bone from a carnivore thought to be more than 100 million years old. It was the first significant find on the site since the 7.5-acre park held its initial public session this month.

Gabrielle, who came to the park from her Annandale home with her parents and 7-year-old sister, hadn't found anything more unusual than rocks and pieces of trees in nearly an hour at the park. The vast majority of people don't, park manager Donald Creveling said.

"Usually it takes a well-trained and practiced eye to be able to pick out the fossils from the rest of the clay," Creveling said. "But perhaps she was helped because she doesn't have a biased eye."

The site, behind an office park at the end of Mid-Atlantic Boulevard near Contee Road, has been producing fossils since the 1850s, forming what experts call the most important dinosaur site east of the Mississippi River. In 2005, an amateur explorer found a two-foot dinosaur leg bone.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission formally created Dinosaur Park this fall to preserve the property from development or degradation. The group decided to open the park to amateur fossil hunters the first and third Saturday of each month. They drew 30 people at the first session and more than 40 the day the Block family visited.

Gabrielle's mother, Karin Block, said her younger daughter, Rachael, is the dinosaur fanatic in their home. Rachael dreams of going on a fossil-hunting expedition in South Dakota some day; Gabrielle is more interested in polar bears and other Arctic animals.

But Block said she decided to take the whole family on an outing after she read about the park.

"We found some rocks that we thought looked interesting, but [park staff] told us they were nothing," Karin Block said. "It was pretty neat when they said she had really found something."

The bone is less than an inch long, but it is likely a vertebrae from a small meat-eating dinosaur, said Peter Kranz, a geologist and president of the Washington-based Dinosaur Fund.

The bone will head to the Smithsonian, where it will be subject to further study and could go on display, Kranz said.

"I've been working there for 20 years and I've only found about six vertebrae, so for a child to do it on her first try is really unusual," he said.

Creveling said that paleontologists might not be able to pinpoint the exact species of dinosaur because of the size of the vertebra. But they are likely to be able to match it with teeth and other fossils found at the site that could be from the same type of dinosaur.

Gabrielle said she wasn't sure she would find anything after a half-hour or so of unsuccessful hunting, during which she found "a lot of tree stuff."

"But then I was really excited and happy," said Gabrielle, a student at Canterbury Woods Elementary School.

Her dinosaur-loving sister Rachael was disappointed that she didn't find anything significant, but she's not giving up.

"I promised her we'd go back next time it's open," her mom said.

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