Brigham Young University probably has one of the finest collections of dinosaur bones between the Pacific Coast and Chicago, but don't expect to see it on display.
"You know where it is? Underneath the stadium where no one can see it," said BYU President Rex E. Lee in a press conference earlier this year.While the university would like to provide the facilities and manpower to uncover the findings collected from quarries in Colorado and central Utah, it can't be done without outside funding.
By the end of this summer, BYU's Earth Science Museum may have to close its doors if additional funding isn't found soon, said museum director Wade Miller, also BYU's geology department chairman. Tours then would be limited to a pre-arranged basis.
BYU officials opened the Earth Sciences Museum several years ago in a small building west of Cougar Stadium after collecting some unused display cases and getting some volunteer help from the community.
"We have all the capabilities. We just need money to build it up," Miller said.
Where will new finds go?
Perhaps the most discouraging news comes with some good news from BYU paleontologists working in a western Colorado quarry.
"We are on to a nesting site that may be older than any found before," Miller said. "We have one embryo from the site and eggshell fragments that are as old as the egg we found" in 1987, dating back 150 million years.
But without help, the university's latest discovery may mean nothing. "Unless we can get support, we won't be able to find things like this," he said.
BYU has given the museum some extra money to keep it going until the end of the summer and continues to pay for building maintenance, several part-time student employees and a collections manager.
Anything more than that, however, must come from outside sources.
"The financing for buildings such as museums and athletic facilities should and will have to come from donated funds," Lee said.
The university has hired fund-raiser for the museum, but no significant donor has been found yet.
A six-year grant from the National Science Foundation enabled Miller to hire two full-time preparators, but when the grant ran out last fall, only one preparator remained.
A shoestring operation
Without funding, the museum's only preparator may soon be part time, he said. A recent donation of $2,000 by amateur paleontologist David Jones of Minnesota, a fan of the museum, will help the work for a few months. But a large endowment would allow officials to hire several permanent workers and uncover the findings housed under the stadium.
"If we could do that, we really could make some headway with some of the specimens that haven't been prepared yet," Miller said.
Just preparing the findings for display takes many hours. Preparators have worked for almost a year to restore a triceratops skull and will spend two more months working on the underside of the skull. One dinosaur vertebra takes at least 40 hours to restore, he said.
"We are a little bit in a Catch-22 situation. We have important quarries we are working in and want to be able to collect in those and not let them go to another institution, but with no preparators we cannot fully restore the works."
Miller applied for a renewal on the National Science Foundation grant but was turned down. "I will try again. The problem with funding is that it seems to get less and less every year."
In the meantime, Miller and his associates have worked hard to have a nice museum on a shoestring budget. Donations are accepted at the museum and a small gift shop brings in some extra funds but only enough to keep a part-time secretary on board.
Bones bigger than the building
The museum houses the only display of ultrasaurus and supersaurus bones - the largest dinosaurs believed to have lived. BYU's most complete dinosaur - a camarasaurus - cannot be displayed because there is no room in the building.
The museum has fish bones that date back 500 million years and dinosaur bones that go back 150 million years.
"We are sitting on finds that may be new to science, but we are so slow preparing them that we don't know what we have," Miller said.
Prominent earth scientists throughout the country and in foreign lands have praised the collection and written letters to Lee asking that it not be lost for lack of funding.
Plans to build a natural history museum complex next to the Monte L. Bean Museum are on hold at BYU until money is found. University officials estimate it will take $23.3 million to build and operate the Earth Science Museum alone. The Museum of Peoples and Cultures will take another $17 million.
"I don't see how we can turn our back on the quality of the earth sciences collection that we have," Lee said. "It's a high priority to do something about it. If you can find some people to donate, we would gladly volunteer to name one brick to a wing in their honor."