Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Girl Who Found a Dinosaur

Allosaurus and Stegosaurus at DMNS. Click for photo credit.
"Wow...," she said. "" I was at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the little voice was coming from the other side of the Stegosaurus. I looked around it and saw a little girl around four years old. She was gazing up at the Allosaurus (the toothy gray dinosaur on the left) and seemed to have slipped into a kind of dinosaur-induced rapture.

I wanted to tell her what I had just read on the plaque in front of the display: that the dinosaur she was so impressed by had been discovered by a young girl. But I thought her parents might look askance at a stranger talking to their little girl, so I just smiled and moved along. Maybe I should have showed the plaque to them.

When I got back home, I looked up the story of the girl and the Allosaurus. In 1979, a thirteen-year-old girl named India Wood was visiting a family ranch in the plateau country of western Colorado, near Dinosaur National Monument. She had been finding fossils there since she was 8 years old, but this time she found a dinosaur bone sticking out of a hillside.

Naturally, she started digging it out. And she kept digging over the next three summers; stashing the bones under her bed back in Colorado Springs. In 1982 her mother convinced her to contact the museum in Denver. The curator, Don Lindsey, drove down to Colorado Springs, and was amazed when the 17-year-old started pulling gorgeously preserved dinosaur bones out from under her bed. Knowing talent when he saw it, he hired India as a field assistant to help him dig out the rest of the great beast's bones. They were stored in a back room for several years, but in the early '90's the Allosaurus was mounted next to its old foe Stegosaurus, which had been found decades before in Canon City, Colorado.

In a People article from 1984, India said she wanted to go into paleontology. Later on, she became more interested in other fields, so she went to Dartmouth and studied English Literature. She went on to get an MBA from MIT, and today she owns a business research firm in Boulder. I don't know if she ever wishes she had become a paleontologist, but I'm guessing she would have been continued to be great at it.

As for the little girl at the museum, I hope somebody tells her India Wood's story. Who knows, maybe it will inspire her to go out and find her own dinosaur.


India Wood Makes No Bones About It: Her Colorado Dinosaur Find is a Real Monster

Allosaur Find, Nearly Thirty Years Later

Paleontology: Discovering the Ancient History of the American West


  1. "But Lindsey convinced her there was no future in it [i.e., paleontology], so she went to Dartmouth and studied business." The mind reels that a paleontologist would be so down on the benefits and personal rewards of his profession that he'd counseled a young girl to skip it, or did he think there was no future in it for a woman? I liked the chapter in the DMNS Annals (your third source at the end) that suggested Lindsey was the one without much of a future in paleontology. BTW, Ben, on his Extinct Monsters blog, just posted (8/14/15) on the Allosaurus and Stegosaurus mounts at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and he linked to this post of yours. Glad he did, I enjoyed it.

  2. India here. I just read your article. Love the intro at the museum with the little girl. Thank you so much! The link I included goes to my page about the dinosaur memoir I’ve written; I am currently querying agents. Another page you would enjoy is, a page I ghost-write for Alice, since her claws don’t work with keyboards.
    A few corrections: I majored in English literature at Dartmouth and got an MBA at MIT. Don wasn't the major factor in my decision to leave paleo at age 20, rather a deeper interest in working with people more than fossils. I still go fossil hunting, camp often, and love paleo, geology, astronomy, and nature.

    1. Thanks for your comment, India! So glad you read it. Sorry about the mistakes--I corrected those. Good luck with your memoir. I'd love to read it!