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Jack Horner

Updated: August 5, 2020

Jack Horner
Jack Horner

Every day Montanans walk across the very same ground dinosaurs once inhabited. Was Montana a teaming jungle filled with giant, flesh-ripping monsters 72 million years ago? Not exactly, and the scientist who has done the most research on the day-to-day life of dinosaurs is Montana State University's Jack Horner.

Some of Horner's more surprising theories are that dinosaurs were much more sociable than people previously thought and in fact lived in large herds. Horner refers to many common dinosaurs as "the cows of the Mesozoic." He has also recently revised the familiar view of the dreaded Tyrannosaurus Rex. Was the terrible beast more like the African hyena, a scavenger, rather than a fierce predator? And finally, were dinosaurs warm blooded rather than cold blooded like their reptilian descendents, or did they evolve from a warm-blooded infant to a cold-blooded adult? These are all very interesting questions you can explore at Montana's Museum of the Rockies, Jack Horner's home base.

Jack Horner, fossil hunter born in Shelby, Montana served as the model for the scientist, Alan Grant in the movie, Jurassic Park. He found his first dinosaur fossil at the age of eight. He was not an outstanding student but he excelled at science projects. He once sent a rocket up 15,000 feet at a speed of 800 miles per hour from a local airport to the astonishment of onlookers. After high school he went on to college where he had an undistinguished academic record.

After a stint in the Marines, Horner returned to college where he found something he could get his hands on--fossils! He was driven and pursued courses in paleontology for seven years but failed to earn a degree. He then returned to the family business and drove a gravel truck, while continuing to hunt for a job in paleontology. Finally, he landed one at Princeton University. While working as an assistant in paleontology he made one of the most startling discoveries of his life. He discovered his academic problems were due to dyslexia!

T Rex Skull
T-rex Skull

Horner has a large collection dinosaur fossils. He notes that his brain is the "hunt, poke, and dig-around version issued to field scientists." The curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies is generally casual and brief. He is most often seen in a scraggly beard, sneakers, and a bush hat. He doesn't like highbrow academia and has disdain for rigid scholarly decorum. But he takes his fossil hunting very seriously, and his research doesn't stop when the bones are extracted from the soil.

Horner's laboratory at the Museum of the Rockies is equipped with such high-tech tool as a machine that takes CAT scans of fossils, a microbiological bone-study lab and a newly installed DNA-extraction-and-analysis machine.

Among his most spectacular findings is the nest of Maiasaur, or "Good Mother Lizard" fossils on Egg Mountain in northcentral Montana. His discovery of a nearly intact dinosaur egg led him to focus his research on juvenile and baby dinosaurs. One of his most recent discoveries is a nearly intact Tyrannosaurs Rex skeleton. The fossil will be displayed much as it was found so museum goers will be able to see the evidence that paleontologists use to build their scientific theories. We hope to see you soon at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

Updated: August 5, 2020

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