Sophomore Tenley Bertz prepares to ‘dig’ into summer


Courtesy of Tenley Bertz

Sophomore Tenley Bertz sits in front of the digging site in eastern Montana, munching on a sandwich before she begins her search for dinosaur bones. Bertz is one of the very few people that got the opportunity to participate in the dig. “I feel really lucky to have this opportunity to participate in this program,” Bertz said. “I like it a lot, and I know it is definitely not a common thing for someone to do, so I like to stand out.”

As the temperature rises over the rocky desert terrain, sophomore Tenley Bertz brushes off a newly found dinosaur fossil, fresh out of the dirt. She participates in dinosaur digs every summer and is hoping paleontology will become part of her future.

“I have always had a love for dinosaurs, and they are so fun to learn about. I want to be a paleontologist because they are scientists that focus on mainly dinosaurs. This is super important to me, and it is awesome that I am getting the experience of what paleontologists do before I have even graduated from high school,” Bertz said. “I have been very passionate about dinosaurs ever since I was a little kid, and that passion has stuck with me ever since.”

Bertz and her family plan to travel to Montana in June to participate in Paleo X, a fossil dig sponsored by the Adventure 360 Organization, which they also attended last summer. 

“This time we are going to look for fossils, and it is going to be a lot of hard work, but it’s totally worth it to be able to learn from the experience,” Bertz said. “We have to walk for several miles just to get to the site, combined with all the activity of digging and brushing; it is hard.”

In order to find fossils, Bertz uses a variety of tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, brushes, picks and knives.

The tools we use aren’t fancy or anything, but they definitely help get the job done,” Bertz said. “I am pretty comfortable using them, and that’s all I really ask for, just being able to use the tools successfully.”

After finding a bone, the process of taking it out of the ground and cleaning it requires caution and precision.

“[When] we find [the bones], they are usually sticking out of the rock. First, we dig around it to make sure there aren’t any other bones that can be damaged in the process of taking it out,” Bertz said. “After we dig it out, we apply foil jackets around it to prevent it from falling apart, and then we clean it with brushes. To me, this is a very scary process, and I have the constant fear of breaking it.”

Knowing how to use the tools correctly and being cautious has allowed Bertz and her family to find several fossils in their past digs.

“The very first year we went, we found the end of the femur from a rare T-Rex, and it was so cool because I had never seen one before. We were lucky because many bones break apart during the removing and cleaning process,” Bertz said. “I hope to find more of these bones, so we can help other people learn from them.”

In addition to finding the rare T-Rex bone, Bertz found a Velociraptor tooth, which was one of her most prized finds.  

It was really incredible, and very important to me when I found [the tooth]. It was like a dream come true, and it shows that I have the ability to be a great digger,” Bertz said.  “Honestly, it was something I had wanted to do for so long but had always seemed so far away, and now I was actually doing it. As time went on, [digging] became a little more of a routine, but I still get super excited at finding bigger fossils. [Finding the Velociraptor tooth] was one of my favorite memories because I will always remember that moment.”

Despite being the one to uncover the bones, Bertz is unable to keep them as they have to go to the Museum of the Rockies, where the bones are tested and researched.

“It is unfortunate that I cannot keep them, but it is also good that the bones that we found are being used for research,” Bertz said. “It is just amazing that I was able to experience these discoveries before I even became a paleontologist.”

Over the last few years, Bertz has learned a lot about dinosaurs, and in her perspective, they are more than just an ordinary animal.

“To me, dinosaurs are amazing creatures because they help us learn about what Earth was like back then. Their remains help us better understand biological research in animals, which is truly amazing,” Bertz said. “It’s also amazing to see what paleontologists do because they do all this countless research, which helps us better understand [dinosaurs].”