Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Big Pig Dig

©Bert Gildart: In addition to story of Wounded Knee, which recalls one of the worse chapters in our government’s dealings with Native Americans–and that I’ve been covering in my posts–Badlands National Park also tells a much more upbeat natural history story. That story is multifaceted, and tells about the park’s biology, geology and of particular interest, the story of its vast paleontological discoveries.

Greatest repository of the Oligocene

Greatest repository of the Oligocene

Rugged as they are, the badlands may just contain one of the world’s highest concentrations of fossils in the world, something that is immediately apparent as you move through the Visitor Center. Here you will not only see some of the actual remains uncovered in the park, but as well you will see artists’ renditions of some of the animals that have been uncovered here.

Archaeotherum sparked "Big Pig Dig"

Archaeotherum sparked "Big Pig Dig"

Most publicized has been a large pig-like mammal known scientifically as the Archaeotherium. The animal is shown in the Visitor Center feeding on another ancient animal that resembles the deer. Look closely and you’ll see a chunk of “deer” meat dangling from its substantial jaws. That’s quite a biological interpretation, but in the Badlands that’s just the beginning of the story.

And that is something of which we were completely unaware of as we drove the Conata Basin Road to a site so well known as the “Big Pig Dig.”


According to Wayne Thompson, a doctoral candidate employed this summer to monitor road work for yet more paleontological finds–and to work on the Big Pig Dig–the site takes its name from the same large Archaeotherium that had so impressed Janie and me back in the Visitor Center. The site was discovered in 1993 when two park visitors stumbled upon a backbone protruding from the ground.

The visitors did as they were supposed to do in a national park and left the bones at the site. Then they notified the park’s staff and directed them to a site that has subsequently proved to be an extraordinarily rich deposit of bones. Shortly after the discover, scientists went to work, but as they soon discovered, the bones they unearthed did not belong to those of our Archaeotherium, rather, they belonged to the Subhyracodon, a hornless rhinoceros. Still, the name “Big Pig Dig” stuck.

Today, the site has become a favorite among park visitors, for it has produced a bountiful find. In addition scientists have dug up bones of early rhinoceroses, three-toed horses, small deer-like mammals, saber-tooth cats. As well the site has also produced bones from the Archaeotherium.

Because of the geological formations of the time, most of the bones will be from the Oligocene, a geological period of time that comes right after the Age of Dinosaurs-or about 45 millions years ago.

Much treasured "Big Pig Dig"

Much treasured "Big Pig Dig"

Because the dig was so far from the park visitor center, we moved to the settlement of Wall, North Dakota, located much closer to the Big Pig Dig. It was also closer to the Sage Creek Road where I photographed the bison of several posts ago.

Mesohippus, ancient horse

Mesohippus, ancient horse

During the time at Wall, we made several excursions to the Big Pig Dig and on each trip learned something new. Wayne said you can wander anywhere in the park and because it is such a repository of bones, he said you may well stumble across creatures from the past. But how do you know whether your finding is a bone or a rock?


Wayne says that if you are in question about whether your find is a rock or bone you might try the taste test.

“Place the object on your tongue,” he said, “and if it sticks, it’s a bone. The porous nature of the bone makes it stick, and that the test I always use.”

Apparently, the test offered a tried-and-true technique, because that’s the same technique Ranger Jesse Beauchamp said she used. She divulged the information at a weekly talk she gives from the Fossil Exhibit Trail.

Though we’re now back home in Bigfork, there is yet another post I want to make on our incredible trip through the Badlands of South Dakota before I start posting on an area that we see all too little of: Glacier National Park. We hope to remedy that with a number of camping trips in our Airstream to various places in the park.

As well, I hope to be telling you about some new fishing vernacular, suitable at times, but only those times when something so stupendous has occurred that you find you are at a loss for words.

And now, a view point posting from this time last year:

*Pikas are Key To Global Warming

One Response to “Big Pig Dig”

  1. Jim Carney Says:

    Nice article on the “Pig Dig”. I was one of the two visitors who discovered the spot.

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