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A Dinosaur Dig into South Dakota's History

The apatosaurus, such as this concrete replica at Dinosaur National Park near Rapid City, roamed the state during the Mesozoic Era, 150 million years ago. (Wikimedia Commons)
The apatosaurus, such as this concrete replica at Dinosaur National Park near Rapid City, roamed the state during the Mesozoic Era, 150 million years ago. (Wikimedia Commons)
May 28, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. — Most people associate South Dakota with the nearly 80-year-old Mount Rushmore National Monument, not with dinosaurs that roamed here more than 80 million years ago. But one reporter would like to change that.

Every week in the Pierre Capital Journal, David Byrnes pens "Great Mondays in South Dakota History." He’s described it as an "effort to get readers through Monday morning alive," with a new take on South Dakota's past.

Rather than bullet-point descriptions of events on that day in history, Byrnes' first column covered the Big Bang. The first column followed a marine reptile that lived in the inland sea that once covered South Dakota some 84-million years ago. The second covered an extinct mammal when vast subtropical forests instead of prairie covered South Dakota.

"I've always just been kind of amazed by history” Byrnes said. “I’m a huge dinosaur nerd and I'm one of those weird kids that at the age of six could tell you the name of every single bug and creepy-crawly in the Jurassic."

Byrnes has also covered the little-known Clovis culture, named for the city of Clovis, New Mexico, where their tools were first discovered. The Clovis people are believed to be the first humans to permanently settle in North America - and in South Dakota specifically.

Byrnes recently joined the Capital Journal as a general assignment reporter after growing up in Chicago. He credited trips to that city's massive Field Museum of Natural History with sparking his journalistic interest in ancient worlds.

"I think in America, people tend to think that history starts with the first European settlers, and that's just blatantly not true,” he said. “It's part of the reason why I wanted to write the series in the first place - it was as much my education on the history of the region as anything else."

He said future history columns will detail the emergence of the Great Plains cultures that began 5,000 years ago. The daily Capital Journal has a circulation of nearly 11,000 and serves Pierre and surrounding regions.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD