Seth Johnson/Daily Journal: Rodney Christianson found a 65 to 80 million-year-old fossilized vertebra from a mosasaur. Top right: The Mosasaur was more than 40 feet long and weighed around 15 tons. These predators were the most dominant aquatic creatures of their time.

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Old bone

Published 10:57am Thursday, December 13, 2012 Updated 10:58am Thursday, December 13, 2012

An Otter Tail County man came across an amazing discovery that tracks life in the Midwest back around 70 million years.

Rodney Christianson, Clitherall, was working in South Dakota when he kicked something sticking slightly out of the ground. A rock-like object popped out of the dirt, and when he took a closer look, he noticed it had some interesting features. Christianson threw it in his lunch box and kept on working.

For three years, the special rock sat next to Christianson’s TV stand with a collection of other interesting things he had found on the ground. Finally, his curiosity got the better of him, and he brought the object to St. Cloud State University professor of anthropology Matthew Tornow.

Upon looking at the specimen, Tornow concluded it was a vertebra bone from a mosasaur, a marine dinosaur that lived 65 to 80 million years ago during the cretaceous period when South Dakota was covered with water.

The Mosasaur was more than 40 feet long and weighed around 15 tons. These predators were the most dominant aquatic creatures of their time.

The vertebra found by Christianson has clear ball and socket ends and a hole where the spinal cord ran through.

“The vertebra has a typical reptilian morphology that includes a ball and socket type of arrangement, where the ball end of one vertebra would fit into the socket end of the next vertebra,” Tornow said. “If you look at your specimen, you’ll see that one end of the vertebral body is ball shaped, and the other end is concave. The size of the vertebra is consistent with that of a mosasaur.”

Christianson said he can remember exactly where he found the bone, and he would like to go back someday to see what else is around the area.

“I want to go back there so bad, I’m just steaming,” he said. “I want to go right now, and I want to look for more because there’s got to be more there.”

Christianson said he still can’t believe he let it sit by his TV for three years.

“You don’t find that everyday,” he said. “I just want to find more. I have always liked looking for things on the ground. I have tons of rocks around, and for me to pick up a dinosaur bone is just a bonus.”

Christianson said he will be looking for a university or expert interested in going back to the site where the bone was found to see if excavation is possible.

If anyone would be interested in helping Christianson take the next steps, contact Seth Johnson at The Daily Journal — 218-739-7035.

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