Skip to main content

A Small Museum with a Big Collection of Tiny Fossils | Stops | Prehistoric Road Trip

A Small Museum with a Big Collection of Tiny Fossils

Pioneer Trails Regional Museum, Bowman, North Dakota

Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, 66 million years ago

In the small town of Bowman, North Dakota is a big collection of tiny fossils. The Pioneer Trails Regional Museum is nestled in the town of nearly 1,600 people and is also home to a full-sized Triceratops fossil.

Pioneer Trails Regional Museum History

Survivors of the Apocalypse

Emily Graslie chats with Dean Pearson about the collection at the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum.

A group of local hobbyists founded the museum in 1992 in order to share fossils and other historical artifacts with the community and the tourists passing by on Interstate 84. The museum has “regional” in its name because each fossil and artifact comes from within a 100-mile radius of Bowman.

One of the founders, Dean Pearson, spoke to Emily Graslie about the museum’s fossil collection. He showed her dozens of vials that contain tiny pieces of small vertebrates that survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. 

Pearson said that over the course of six field seasons and 4,500 man-hours, he and other volunteers washed roughly 2,500 small mammal, fish, and other invertebrate specimens – more than 1,100 pounds – through special screens to remove the surrounding mud and sediment. Though many of the fossils are small fragments, they offer important evidence about the creatures that survived the mass extinction and the environment in which they lived.

The Pioneer Trails Regional Museum goes beyond paleontology, though. It has collections that explore anthropology, archeology, genealogy, astronomy, botany, as well as the local history of life on the frontier and memorabilia from several American wars.

Watch more of the clip from Prehistoric Road Trip above to learn about the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum.