Dinosaur skeleton finds home in Michigan college

Andrew Kingaking
Hillsdale Daily News

Hillsdale — When Hillsdale College biology professor Anthony Swinehart led students Matt Hoenig and Hee-Sang Lee on a dinosaur dig in South Dakota, the trio brought home more than just experience.

Thanks to a donation from a woman named Darla Roberts, "Linda," the edmontosaurus skeleton the students had helped unearth now occupies an entire wall of the College's Daniel M. Fisk Museum.

"She's donated to a number of educational institutions and found out about us through a contact of mine," Swinehart said of Roberts. "She has a soft spot for small museums that normally wouldn't be able to afford such things."

The Hillsdale Daily News reports that thanks to Roberts' donation, Swinehart now bears the distinction of being the curator of one of only four Michigan museums to house a real bone dinosaur skeleton.

But, while "Linda" — nicknamed for the woman who discovered the skeleton — is real bone, she isn't all bone.

"In terms of real bone, Linda is only about 40 percent," Swinehart said of the skeleton. "Whether you go by bone count or bone volume. That's not uncommon at all. To get an 80 or 90 percent complete one is really rare. (The rest of Linda is made of) resin casts from real bones. Even with 40 percent, that's pretty cool. A lot of the museums you go to that have dinosaur skeletons; they're all casts. They just buy a cast. We got a lot of the big bones. The really cool bones, like the femur, are real."

Hoenig, a Toledo-native and a Hillsdale senior, explained the significance of the donation as he saw it.

"It's something that non-scientists — guests to the college — can see and get excited about," he said. "The college has a gene sequencer that's a very expensive piece of equipment. The fact that Hillsdale has one is made all the more significant by the fact that we're a really small college. But if you show that to an average lay person they're going to be like, 'OK, expensive equipment.' But both scientists and non-scientists can appreciate and enjoy (Linda)."

Meanwhile, Swinehart emphasized the power of the natural world, of which impressive finds like "Linda" are a part, to inspire wonder, and more pragmatically, to inspire careers in science.

"From a purely intrinsic perspective, (dinosaurs) evoke emotion, and fascination and an interest in discovery and an interest in science," Swinehart said. "Many people that end up doing science, whether it's paleontology or medicine, start out with a fascination with dinosaurs, and so from that perspective it's extremely valuable. Studying interesting things and learning about the natural world adds to the quality of our lives."

The college unveiled the skeleton on Dec. 2. The Daniel M. Fisk Museum is open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is located in the Strosacker Science Center, room 214.