A new hobby has consumed East Central University’s Dr. Mark Micozzi and it has led to an amazing and exciting discovery as he spends the summer in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Dabbling in paleontology for the first time in his life, Micozzi, a professor in ECU’s Department of Cartography and Geography, recently found a dinosaur tooth near Kenton, Okla., in the far northwestern corner of the panhandle.
The tooth belonged to a theropod, a dinosaur with strong hind legs and short front limbs. The finding was the first indication of a dinosaurian carnivore from what is dubbed the “Homestead Quarry”, on land owned by the Whitten-Newman Foundation
“The thrill of discovery is something you can’t experience anywhere but out in the field,” said Micozzi.
Micozzi, along with ECU student Dylan Cheatwood, have been spending the summer near the Black Mesa Nature Preserve and Kenton, the highest elevated town in the state and the only Oklahoma town in the Mountain Time Zone, located just three miles east of the New Mexico state line and six miles south of the Colorado state border.
Micozzi and Cheatwood have been joined this summer by the excavation leader Dr. Anne Weil and a group of scientists from Oklahoma State University; Reggie Whitten of the Whitten-Newman Foundation; and members from the Sam Noble Museum’s ExplorOlogy program in Norman and Native Explorers program.
The ExplorOlogy program focuses on science education for high school students while the Native Explorers program provides hands-on experience with science careers to Native American college students. Both programs receive support from the Whitten-Newman Foundation.
“Reggie and I were working a small area, trying to clear out a path to let any rainwater drain out of a pit. Reggie found a whole bunch of pieces of bone in his area and I found a triangle shape, which was the tooth” Micozzi said. “Anything indicating that a meat-eater was there had not been found in that quarry before.”
Whitten described the tooth finding as a miracle and has been pleased with Micozzi’s volunteer assistance this summer.
“Dr. Micozzi has been out there on his own time and he’s here to help a bunch of kids he didn’t meet until he got here,” Whitten said.
According to Weil, the theropod may have been a scavenger.
“They shed teeth frequently and this is a fairly worn tooth,” she said.
Micozzi and Cheatwood also have done key work in uncovering seven vertebral centra, many ribs and other parts of a sauropod dinosaur, a giant plant-eater that had a long neck and tail, along with a small head.
“Being a geographer, I didn’t have much experience with paleontology, but here we are finding these things. I’m just thrilled that in thousands and thousands of square miles, we picked the right spot. It was a little dot in the whole landscape and it was like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Micozzi.
Micozzi, who is an academic advisor to Cheatwood, has been thrilled with what the senior-to-be from Okemah has contributed to the group effort. Cheatwood, a geography major, is also the stepson of Whitten.
“He’s brought that level of confidence and maturity that has been helpful and he’s a good worker,” Micozzi said. “He also knows the area from being here a few times and knows the different kind of rocks.”
The Homestead Quarry land lies near sites excavated by Dr. Willis Stovall of the University of Oklahoma in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. The quarries were closed when the United States entered World War II and the ‘Homestead’ site is the first new dinosaur quarry discovered in that area of Oklahoma since 1941.
“It is an amazing site scientifically and has a lot to offer the education of Oklahoma’s youth,” said Weil. “I expect that we will be working on it for several years.”
Fossils collected from the Homestead Quarry will be prepared and housed at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman.
On July 29, ECU’s Presidential Leadership Class will visit Black Mesa, the Homestead Quarry and excavate in a quarry designated exclusively for ECU students.
“This quarry is dedicated to Dr. Micozzi and he will lead ECU students when they come out,” said Whitten.