- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Fossil hunter John Hoganson, North Dakota’s first state paleontologist, has spent decades unearthing secrets that have been kept for millions of years. On Friday, he retired after more than 33 years with the state Geological Survey.

Hoganson, 66, is credited with helping grow the state fossil collection “from scratch” to a world-class resource, geologist Ed Murphy said.

“The state literally had just a couple of fossils to tens of thousands of fossils now,” Murphy said. The specimens are on display at the Heritage Center in Bismarck and at about two dozen sites across North Dakota, including schools and museums.

Hoganson said the specimens have been found by everyone from professional paleontologists to amateur rock hounds.

A few of the best finds in recent years have included the fairly complete fossilized remains of a young triceratops from 65 million years ago, giant crocodiles from 55 million years ago, a 75-million-year-old marine lizard known as a mosasaur and a 67-million-year-old Edmontosaurus with fossilized skin, dubbed Dakota the duckbilled dinosaur.

Researchers say Dakota is one of the more important dinosaur discoveries in recent times. It is one of only a few mummified dinosaurs in existence and may have the most and best-preserved skin, along with ligaments, tendons and possibly some internal organs.

Hoganson, who grew up in West Fargo, said his love for earth sciences began at an early age, when he would use his father’s claw hammer to break open rocks “just to see what was inside of them.” He graduated from North Dakota State University and ultimately earned a doctorate in geology with an emphasis in paleontology from the University of North Dakota.

Hoganson is credited with starting annual public fossil excavations in North Dakota about 15 years ago that have drawn amateur paleontologists to the state from around the world. The idea is to find more fossils while bringing tourism dollars to tiny communities, Hogan said.

A recent dig this summer near Walhalla, in northeastern North Dakota, drew 100 amateur fossil hunters, he said.

Murphy said Hoganson will continue to work on projects for the state in an unpaid, emeritus status. Hoganson said he has too much research to do before he becomes extinct.

“I cannot walk away from this,” he said.

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