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Ranch Revives Pitt Dinosaur Connection

When the University acquired a fossil-rich ranch in Wyoming in 2005, it continued a tradition of Pitt research on dinosaurs that dates back more than a century.

Unlike other known dinosaur hot spots in the American west, the Allen L. Cook Spring Creek Preserve has never been fully explored and excavated. That makes it a perfect lab for Pitt faculty and students. In 2005, the University acquired the land from a Wyoming rancher, and it has become a pristine natural science lab rich in fossils, Native American archeological remains, and evidence of geological and weather changes through the ages.

“It's like treasure hunting,” said Edward McCord, director of programming at Pitt's University Honors College and coordinator of the Cook preserve. “You never know what will be out there. There's risk and uncertainty and discovery."

Pitt's involvement with unearthing dinosaur fossils in Wyoming dates back to 1898, when industrialist Andrew Carnegie asked Pitt Chancellor William J. Holland, who also served as director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, to supervise the excavation of a gigantic, long-necked Jurrasic-period dinosaur that would win worldwide fame as Diplodocus carnegii. Supervising a team of paleontologists and craftily navigating Wyoming's halls of power and Western land law, Holland began shipping the first Diplodocus bones by rail to Pittsburgh in 1899. Diplodocus carnegeii has been a prize exhibit at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum since its mounted skeleton was unveiled there in 1907. Carnegie presented replicas to museums throughout Europe and the Americas; it was the first dinosaur that millions of people ever saw.

Hundreds of Millions of Years in the Making

Hundreds of millions of years went into the rock formation of the Allen L. Cook Spring Creek Preserve of the University of Pittsburgh. Pitt undergraduate and graduate students are working alongside top researchers—and prairie dogs—to open a new chapter in Pitt lore.


A Rare Confluence

The Spring Creek property contains a rare confluence of three distinct rock formations that run through several Western states, offering a time capsule of geologic history, rich in evidence of life dating back 150 million years to the Jurassic Period. That means it’s dinosaur country.


Why Did He Donate It to Pitt?

Why would a Wyoming cattleman donate thousands of acres of pristine ranch land to a university he has never seen in a city he has never visited?   It was Pitt’s commitment to use the property as an educational laboratory that resonated with Allen Cook.  He also liked Pitt’s plan to team with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the University of Wyoming in exploring the land.