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Now totally clear of rock, the fossil legend headlines at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago , but the bones had a long journey to their current location and it all started at a cliff in South Dakota. One of the crew, Sue Hendrickson , went for a hike and started finding bone chips littering the base of an outcrop. She looked up and upon finding three sizeable vertebrae sticking out of the cliff, ran back to camp.
The Larsons, Hendrickson and the rest of the team had made the largest discovery of their lives, and they subsequently spent months excavating the skeleton. In the early scenes of the film, it excels at drawing out the sense of discovery, and by weaving in original footage, it evokes an intense feeling of being in the moment.
The documentary deepens this connection with excellent landscape images. There is nothing quite like a badlands vista — the white sun baking bare rock, molting shales flaking off fantastical spires, and vast flatlands pushing back the horizon. Seamlessly interweaving footage of locals chanting in protest, the paleontologists shedding genuine tears and armed forces escorting the boxed skeleton, the film oozes a sense of infuriation.
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This is even more evident when the Black Hills team is arrested and slapped collectively with a charge, count federal indictment. For Peter Larson, all but two of the charges were dismissed. He was found guilty of customs violations and sentenced to two years in federal prison. The research team thought they were on private land and, indeed, old footage with the land owner at the dig site was used as evidence of this.
If nothing else, the ensuing confusion carries the lesson that a researcher should always know the land-use restrictions of their field sites. In the courts, the federal government, Cheyenne River Sioux and rancher Maurice Williams all contended with the Black Hills Institute for ownership of the skeleton.
Williams, who passed away in , does not appear in the film. Addition Flash Cards: Learning Essentials. Alphabet Flash Cards: Learning Essentials.
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