Becky Barnes: Paleontologist

“I love the look of initial discovery. When you have someone who has never been out before and you find something, it’s a great feeling”


Becky Barnes grew up as a self-proclaimed “girl who loves monsters.” You wouldn’t find her playing with Barbies or a doll house when she was young. Instead, she would grab her favorite stuffed animal “Misty the Triceratops” off her bed and set up her science station. There, she and Misty would spend five years obsessively cleaning fish fossils her mom found for her.

“My family was a family that loved monsters. So I wanted to try and figure out a way to try and work with monsters for a living,” Becky says.

Fast forward to the present and Becky’s dreams have come true. As a paleontologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, she can’t get much closer to real-life monsters than the ones at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck.

The 16-foot tarpon-like fish called the Xiphactinus, which has a mouth large enough to fit a person in whole (with plenty of teeth to go along with it), greets visitors. It’s followed closely be the “baddest of the beasties” the Tyrannosaurus rex. For some, the skeletons of these creatures are enough to strike fear. For Becky, it doesn’t get any more exciting unless she is out on one of the many public digs.

“North Dakota is pretty cool because we have a wide variety of paleontological stuff that you can choose from. And we are very cool because we allow people to come and dig,” Becky says.

The North Dakota Geological Survey’s public fossil digs have exploded in these past two years. The New York Times and USA Today have published stories about everyday people who have a chance to discover prehistoric wonder firsthand. Instead of strolling through a museum gallery, they’re pulling bones up with their own hands.

“You don’t have to be attending a university, you don’t have to be working in a museum, you can be a part of the general public that has always wanted to come out and dig fossils, and you can come out and dig fossils” Becky says.

Now “the girl who loves monsters” is showing dozens of kids how to clean fossils just like she did back in her bedroom. Except out on the North Dakota prairie, it’s a lot more than a few fish fossils that are waiting to see the light of day once again.

Click here to learn more about the North Dakota Geological Survey’s Public Fossil Digs. Don’t wait to sign up because spots will go fast!


Becky's Best

Here are Becky's must-see list of museums around North Dakota.

Badlands Dinosaur Museum at Dickinson
Barnes County Historical Society at Valley City
Pioneer Trails Regional Museum at Bowman
Pembina State Museum at Pembina
Long X Trading Post at Watford City

Bismarck map

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