By Mary Alice Hartsock
It was supposed to be sunny, hot, and dusty, but instead the clouds opened and rain pounded from the Montana sky. It was day one of his first-ever fossil dig, and Mike Servedio was bummed out.
But if there is anything the Academy’s web and social media manager learned from his nine years working with scientists and seven years of recreational hiking, it’s that the field is full of surprises, and a little flexibility goes the distance.
When Servedio finally hit the field the next day with camera and notepad in hand, he knew immediately that his patience paid off. The tan desert, dotted with sagebrush and stones, rolled past red and purple rock layers and right into a crater filled with dinosaur bones.
Servedio accompanied researchers from the Academy of Natural Sciences and the New Jersey State Museum for the Bighorn Basin Dinosaur Project, an expedition to find, collect, and document Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Paleogene fossils. His role was to report on the excavation of the Jurassic sauropod dinosaur Suuwassea, led by Academy Dinosaur Hall and Fossil Prep Lab Coordinator Jason Poole. Servedio’s experience navigating nature made him the perfect candidate to travel to a remote field site to capture and share fieldwork with Academy followers (pages 8–11).
“It’s great to be able to meet the scientists on their terms,” he says. “The scientists are aware that I know that in the field, you have to be prepared to finish what you started—no matter how tired you are.”
Servedio was determined to detail the amazing work taking place in that Montana desert, from the mapping of the site and the power tools employed to remove large chunks of rock, to the use of tiny paintbrushes and glue to uncover and prep small fossils. He kept the Academy’s audiences up-to-date through photographs and time-lapse videos shared on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—the same job he does in the office every day, except with a lot more sun and dirt. He even uncovered a fossil himself.
“It’s crazy—the art it takes to remove, sort, wrap, and preserve the fossils,” he says. “The progress you can make in a day is incredible. You start with a little rib sticking out of the dirt, and by midday you can see the sides of the rib.”
Servedio’s journey to Montana technically began in 2007 when he was hired in the Academy’s Membership Department. Five years later he was promoted to manage the Academy’s website and social media accounts, which are integral parts of the institution’s marketing program. Over the years he has fallen in love with the Academy’s history, quirks, characters, and the ways his job pushes him to learn new things.
“It can be scary to approach experts in their fields with questions, especially when the science gets complicated,” he says.
Servedio hasn’t let down our scientists or his readers. Rather than worrying about the harsh weather in Montana, he was fully focused on telling the exciting story of Academy fieldwork.
“And of course I want to get invited back!” he says.