Fossil expert

BISMARCK State paleontologist John Hoganson, who was the first paleontologist for the North Dakota Geological Survey, is bringing to a close his 33-year career with the Survey.

Hoganson, who joined the Survey in March 1981, officially retires as a state employee on July 31.

Hoganson is concluding his career with the completion of the new Geologic Time Gallery project in the expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.

On Friday, the Survey held a retirement open house in the Heritage Center in honor of Hoganson.

Beginning today, a weekend of open houses is being held in the Heritage Center to celebrate the completion of the first two State Museum galleries the Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time and the Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples. The Geologic Time Gallery open house is today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Early Peoples Gallery is Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hoganson’s position with the North Dakota Geological Survey includes serving as the curator of the state fossil collection located in the Heritage Center. The state fossil collection was created by the North Dakota Legislature in 1989.

Hoganson literally built the state fossil collection from the ground up, said Alison Ritter, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck.

Today, the state fossil collection contains hundreds of thousands of fossils and among them are many from North Dakota.

Originally from West Fargo, Hoganson graduated from North Dakota State University in Fargo with a degree in earth science. He received his master’s degree in geology from the University of Florida. After he left Florida he worked for Union Oil Co. in California as a paleontologist, then decided to return to North Dakota. He obtained his doctorate in geology with emphasis in paleontology from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

“I’ve had a lot of support and encouragement along the way,” he said of his career. “Working for the last 33 years there’s been so much support for the Paleontology program,” naming the support from governors, N.D. Industrial Commission, Lynn Helms, director of the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources, Ed Murphy, state geologist, and the public.

Hoganson’s job has included public and educational outreach for adults and children, including numerous fossil digs conducted at various sites in North Dakota and numerous speaking engagements and presentations.

Following the digs at sites in North Dakota where many fossils have been recovered, many of those fossils have been prepared in the paleontology laboratory in the Heritage Center and then placed on display in the Heritage Center and at other sites in the state.

Hoganson said the outreach program that provides education on prehistoric life to the public from kids to senior citizens is among the most memorable points of his career over the years.

He said developing exhibits of fossils all around the state also has been an important part of his work with the Survey.

“Over the years I have found major discoveries, and right now Mark Erickson and I are finishing a project about 68 million-year-old sharks that lived in North Dakota,” Hoganson said. Erickson is from St. Lawrence University at Canton, N.Y.

Of the many fossils that have been found at dig sites in North Dakota, Hoganson said the mosasaur, a large, extinct marine reptile, found at Cooperstown, was a major find. “That’s the skeleton suspended at the ceiling in the new gallery at the Heritage Center,” he said.

“We have found remains of several kinds of animals that were not known to science before,” Hoganson added. He said one of them is a particular kind of marine fish that was found about 68 million years ago as well as a sting ray.

When he started with the state, Hoganson was the first paleontologist in the North Dakota Geological Survey and the first state paleontologist in North Dakota. Now there are three paleontologists. The other two are Jeff Person and Becky Barnes.

“We started the digs in 2000. Literally thousands of people have worked with us from 26 or so states and foreign countries. It’s been a successful outreach program for us,” Hoganson said. “We started one a year, one-week long and now we do five weeklong digs. The program has expanded because it has been so successful. It’s a great way for people to come and learn about paleontology and what paleontologists do,” he said. He said he particularly likes to see kids participate in digs because they might say they want to become a paleontologist and it gives them an opportunity to see the actual work.

Hoganson said he views the completion of the Geological Time Gallery in the Heritage Center “as a combination of many, many years of research to put together dioramas of life in the past.”

State Geologist Ed Murphy and Hoganson have known each other since 1977, initially when Hoganson was working on his doctorate degree and Murphy was an undergraduate student at the University of North Dakota.

Both started working for Survey about the same time. “He’s a really good geologist and we’ve done a lot of geological research together, projects and published works on North Dakota geology and paleontology,” Hoganson said of Murphy.

“Besides his strong work ethic, John’s greatest asset is his ability to convey scientific information to the general public, especially to children. Children and young adults sense his enthusiasm for pale and that often spurs their interest. I will certainly miss John, but I am very appreciative of all the things he has done for the state of North Dakota,” Murphy said in a news release.

After he retires next week, Hoganson will continue to work on research at the Heritage Center.

A search is being conducted by the N.D. Geological Survey for a new paleontologist to replace Hoganson.