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Have you ever thought about how exciting it would be to make an important scientific discovery? You don't have to be a professional scientist - in paleontology, anyone with a love of science and discovery, some patience, eagle eyes, and a willingness to get dirty has a chance of doing just that! Casual fossil hunters have discovered new species, lifelong fossil enthusiasts have assembled important collections, and amateur paleontologists have collaborated with professionals to write significant scientific papers. Many have donated their fossil discoveries to museums, ensuring that the fossils can be seen and studied by future generations. Amateurs have also worked to preserve important fossil sites threatened by development or destruction.

Our understanding of Cretaceous life in Maryland would be much less complete without the dedicated work of amateur paleontologists who have worked with Smithsonian and university scientists to describe and document their finds. Here we profile three whose fossil discoveries are on display in the “Dinosaurs in Our Backyard” exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Ray Stanford

Ray Stanford holds a slab of rock containing many dinosaur footprints.

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Ray Stanford began collecting Cretaceous fossils when he retired to Maryland in 1986. Over the years, in stream beds throughout the area, he has discovered hundreds of tracks and other important and amazing fossils. The tracks provide the only evidence that some animals, whose fossilized bones have not been found locally, lived in the Washington DC area 110 million years ago. One of Ray's favorite discoveries was the imprint of the baby nodosaur Propanoplosaurus, which is now on display in the “Dinosaurs in our Backyard” exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. This specimen is the subject of his latest scientific paper, written in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University professors David Weishampel and Valerie B. Deleon.

Read our interview with Ray Stanford

Watch a video about the discovery and identification of the hatchling dinosaur.

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Read popular press articles about Ray Stanford's fossil discoveries:

Ray Stanford's scientific papers:

Thomas R. Lipka

Tom Lipka in the field.

Click to zoom. Photo courtesy Tom Lipka.

Thomas Lipka works for the City of Baltimore and collects and studies fossils in his spare time. He has donated dozens of local Cretaceous fossils to the Smithsonian, including the type specimens of a turtle, Arundelemys, and a mammal, Arundelconodon. (A type specimen is a fossil that differs from all previously described fossils and becomes the basis for defining a new species.) He has collaborated with numerous scientists to describe and analyze his discoveries, and has published several research papers.

Read our interview with Tom Lipka

Dave Hacker

Dave Hacker shows collected fossils to visitors to the Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland.

Click to zoom. Photo by Gerald Elgert.

Dave is a lifelong resident of Maryland. A self-described nature buff with varied interests, his hobbies include fossil hunting and science-related travel such as scuba-diving trips, visiting active volcanoes, and viewing total solar eclipses. He is an active volunteer, guide, and organizer for the Prince George's County Maryland Dinosaur Park, and a frequent contributor of Cretaceous fossil finds to the Smithsonian.

Read our interview with Dave Hacker


What Is It Like To Make A New Dinosaur Discovery?

What Is It Like To Make A New Dinosaur Discovery?

Watch amateur paleontologist Ray Stanford talk about his experience discovering a first-of-a-kind fossil find.

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Allosaurus skull

Allosaurus skull on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.

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