A GROUP of eight American amateur paleontologists crouch in a
hollow of the mile-high Rincon Colorado Desert, set to prospect one
of the world's richest, yet untapped fossil fields.
The desert appears as a rolling tapestry of bland scrub and
rusty rubble stone. With a whisk broom and dental pick, Jose
Ignacio Gonzales maneuvers around a knob poking out of the hardened
sediment. "Femur, probably," he says, noting the interior grain
of a fossilized chunk of thigh bone where marrow of a 20-ton
plant-eater once was.
Mr. Gonzales is part of an international team of scientists,
educators, and volunteers committed to explore and safeguard one of
Mexico's unrecognized resources. The Dinamation Corporation and the
state government of Coahuila recently entered a partnership to
cultivate paleontology in Mexico. The goal is to involve foreigners
and Mexicans into a brand of ecotourism that dovetails with
Some may recognize Dinamation as the California maker of roaring
robotic dinosaurs that have delighted youngsters in museum shows
for nearly a decade. In 1988, however, Dinamation founder Chris
Mays established the Colorado-based Dinamation International
Society (DIS), a nonprofit organization charged with engaging the
public in the sciences, especially dinosaur paleontology. DIS now
has the largest participant dinosaur program in the world, bringing
people and prehistory together from Wyoming to Tierra del Fuego,
Argentina - in six countries on four continents. Volunteers assist
with excavating fossils, cataloging, site mapping, and post-dig
The Dinamation-Coahuila model breaks past paleontological
precedent. North American museums have mined for dinosaurs in
Mexico before, but this is the first time that not a single
discovery will be shipped north, DIS executive director Mike Perry
"What typically happens is the fossils end up gathering dust in
a university basement or collecting admission charges in a big-city
museum. Either way the country where they originated loses out.
Dinamation's way is to keep them here, in local hands," he says.
The economic contribution of Dinamation's expeditions is minor
when set against the backdrop of Mexico's hamstrung economy - where
$10 per day is a coveted wage and unemployment is soaring. But Mr.
Perry explains, "It's major when you're among the field guides,
educators, and hotel staff whose job gets the boost."
The senior man in charge of the fossil quarries is University of
Mexico paleontologist and author Rene Hernandez Rivera, a wiry man
with a nose for old bones and a knack for making alliances. "We
have a kind of eighth wonder of the world here with our
paleontological wealth," Professor Hernandez says. …