Bone Hunters Supreme

I have another book for you this month of a somewhat historical nature: The Sternberg Fossil Hunters - A Dinosaur Dynasty by Katherine Rogers. This was originally published in 1991 with a second printing in 1992 by Mountain Press Publishing. This second printing is currently available in soft cover from local book stores at a modest $12.00.

The author of The Sternberg Fossil Hunters - A Dinosaur Dynasty is a retired journalism professor from Fort Hays State University in Kansas. I want to note that Rogers is not just someone who sought to write a popular book and blindly picked the Sternberg family as a topic. She actually knew George F. Sternberg while she was a professor at Fort Hays State and he their museum curator. In her ten years of research on this book Rogers had access to all field notes, letters, and records of the Sternberg family as well as cooperation from many professionals who worked with them. Her account covers the family history from the late 1800's through their last efforts in 1981.

The Sternberg family evolved in the late 1800's and early 1900's into one of the most famous commercial fossil collectors in history. The family story starts during the youth of Charles H. Sternberg (1850-1943) as he makes an early decision to make the collecting and selling of fossils his life's work despite the discouragement of his Lutheran minister father, Levi Sternberg. Charles H. made his decision after the family had relocated to Kansas where he collected fossil leaves. He made his choice knowing that this line of work would not make him rich nor allow for much of a normal family life.

Charles introduced collecting to his oldest son, George Fryer Sternberg (1883-1969), at age six. George F. proved to be a natural. Later, his younger two sons, Charles M. Sternberg (1885-1981) and Levi Sternberg (1894-1976), joined their father and brother in making commercial collecting a joint family career. Charles H's brother George M. Sternberg (1833-1915), although not in the family business, contributed to the early encouragement of his brother and was himself interested in fossils. George M., by the way, chose to go into medicine beginning as a surgeon in the civil war and ending up as Surgeon General of the United States by the end of his career.

You probably noticed that the Sternbergs liked to name sons after their own family members. The author handles this well so the reader is seldom confused as to which Charles, George, or Levi is being discussed.

I found The Sternberg Fossil Hunters - A Dinosaur Dynasty a hard book to put down. It is written almost like an adventure story, keeping the reader interested in what's going to happen next. This is definitely not a dry detailed account of facts and events. The years during the late 1800's is packed with indian encounters including a near miss of a war party on their way to the Little Big Horn. Charles H. worked for both Cope and Marsh at different times during their dinosaur wars and this phase recounts many a secret mission to find the best fossils. Charles H. and E. D. Cope are credited with devising the method of encasing specimens in plaster and burlap for protection.

The Sternbergs dealt with about every famous worker on vertebrate fossils you can think of. Fossils they collected were shipped to famous museums in europe as well as many in the United States. The subtitle of the book would lead one to believe that the Sternbergs were strictly collectors of dinosaur fossils; this is actually not the case. Their collecting efforts encompassed everything from Permian reptiles and amphibians through Recent materials including invertebrates.

The organization of the book naturally starts with the youth of Charles H. and progresses through the involvement of his three sons. Late in the career of Charles H., he and his sons elect to proceed independently. At this point the author follows the subsequent career of each individual separately. The book ends with the career of George F. Sternberg who ended his work back in Kansas at Fort Hays State University as museum curator (the museum is now known as the Sternberg Memorial Museum where many of the finest Sternberg fossils are housed).

I found this to be an absolutely fascinating book and can recommend it without hesitation.

I'll end this review with a quote from Charles H. Sternberg which has pertinence for us all: "...the successful fossil hunter goes carefully over every square foot of exposed surface, the mind wholly occupied with this one thought, and the eyes seeing nothing but the object of the hunt. The most valuable specimen may be easily passed over, especially if the mind dwells on something else", p. 184.

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