Before an appearance last week at the Vernon Area Public Library, Paleo Joe visited Alpena Mich., a place that was especially exciting during the last ice age, about 13,000 years ago.
Back then, Lincolnshire and the rest of the Chicago area was underneath two miles of ice, so Paleo Joe uses his exploration of the northeast corner of Michigan to provide background for his educational presentations.
As his nickname indicates, Joseph Kchodl is a paleontologist, as well as a professional storyteller and educator about all things dinosaurs. On Dec. 16, he made two presentations at the Vernon Library about the dinosaur age, which was around 65 million years ago.
Even in the age of iPads and high-definition TVs, kids remain fascinated by dinosaurs, and Kchodl said it is no problem keeping most crowds’ attention as he goes through his assortment of fossils and other displays.
Kchodl explained that he is among a group currently conducting interesting work in the bedrock of Alpena. He told the crowd that the last glacier pushed all the bones and artifacts of this area quite a ways to the south. Despite that, there are plenty of interesting stories to be told about the world, if not the local community, of 65 million years ago.
Q: How do you teach kids that dinosaurs weren’t cartoon characters, but wild beasts?
A: I tell kids about their lifestyles, what they did, what they ate. I do a lot of contrasting, between modern creatures and the creatures long ago. I wasn’t there, the kids weren’t there, nobody was there, but we’ve learned a lot about what they were like.
Q: What kinds of dinosaurs were around here?
A: None. We don’t have any evidence of dinosaurs in the central part of the United States. A lot of the central United States was underwater during the time of the dinosaurs. The closest we find them to Chicago is western Iowa. Also, the ice age glacier scraped away whatever might have been here.
Q: Most people’s vision of paleontology is shoveling into the dirt until you hit something hard, then yanking a giant bone out of the ground. What is it like these days?
A: We get down on our hands and knees, for the most part, and use dental picks and tooth brushes, but we do use air jackhammers. In the field, we usually cut out huge blocks of rock that contain the bones. We subject those bones to MRI and CAT scans. We’re almost like Dinosaur CSI.
Q: There were predators and prey, just like in our time; you’ve probably visited a lot of homicide or dino-cide scenes.
A: The dinosaurs did not have any dentists, so all they could do to take care of their teeth was to scrap them on meat and other food. They were constantly breaking off those teeth. So, we’ll find a skeleton of something, and we’ll find a ring of teeth all around it. The body was basically a picnic area, and meat-eaters surrounded and ate it.
Q: So, whatever happened to them?
A: There are a lot of different theories. The major one right now is the meteor that hit the Earth about 65 million years ago. There’s also the theory that they introduced diseases to each other as they crossed over the land bridge between Alaska and Russia.