Photo by Marcus Heerdt/Fall River County Herald-Star
Dr. Chris Jass is the new Director of Research at The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs and says that he is still amazed every time he walks into the bonebed. Jass is an Oral native who joins the staff of The Mammoth Site after working for 16 years at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Canada.
By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS – Oral native Dr. Chris Jass has been named the new Director of Research at The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, beginning his tenure this past September.
He replaces Dr. Jim Mead, who is now semi-retired and holds the title of Emeritus Researcher at the Site.
During a visit with Jass at The Mammoth Site on Wednesday, Jan. 24, he reflected on how his professional career in paleontology has come full circle.
“It was working here at The Mammoth Site in 1991 that got me back into paleontology,” said Jass. “I had always been interested in it as a young person, and it was working here in college that drove me into studying the Ice Age. This is where my professional career started.”
While working on his undergraduate degree in sociology and social sciences at Black Hills State University, Jass worked as a tour guide at The Mammoth Site in the summer of 1991.
After rediscovering his love of paleontology at the Site, Jass completed his master’s degree in Quaternary (Ice Age) studies at Northern Arizona State University and then his doctorate in geological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.
He then worked as the curator of Quaternary paleontology at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton, Canada, and that is where he had been for the past 16 years before returning to The Mammoth Site.
“After 33 years, I’m back,” Jass said. “I always had a special attachment to The Mammoth Site, and I am still amazed every time I walk into the bonebed. All this time later, I still find inspiration and oftentimes think ‘wow, I cannot believe this is here.’”
Jass stated that he has two primary objectives to focus on as the new Director of Research. The first is to build on the precedent that Dr. Mead had established previously by further understanding the context in which the animals from The Mammoth Site lived and died. The second is to improve the museum side of the Site by increasing collections by bringing in fossils from other areas of the western United States for examination.
In regards to the Site’s bonebed itself, Jass will have staff focus on a new conservation technique that is a better way to protect bones. The old way of preservation involved coating bones in a treatment that only preserved the outside of the bones. That process also made the bones appear darkish-brown in color. The new consolidation treatment penetrates the bones, offering better protection while at the same time making them appear more as they appeared when they were discovered.
Jass also said that this summer, he and his team plan to excavate new areas of the sinkhole in hopes of making groundbreaking discoveries.
“This summer will be exciting,” Jass said. “It will mark the 50th anniversary of The Mammoth Site and there are a lot of special events planned. If you’re a local and haven’t been to the Site for a while, please come back and visit us. And if you’re new in town, come visit us for the first time. I hope others can feel the same inspiration I get from the Site and be curious about the world around them.”
When reached via email, Dr. Jim Mead said that it was “a no-brainer” to hire Jass as his replacement.
“Chris and I have worked together on research for decades,” Mead said. “There is a reason for this…he is excellent. He is great with people, he is a tremendous thinker and planner, and he is a productive researcher. Now that my wife, Sandy Swift, and I are retired, we can concentrate purely on our research. It is wonderful to have Chris directing research and exhibits at The Mammoth Site. Now I can relax and be more productive!”
The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has been in operation since the early 1970s, and remains an active paleontological dig site that protects the fossils of more than 60 mammoths as well as other Ice Age mammals. For more information visit www.mammothsite.org or call (605) 745-6017.