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Black Hills Institute of Geological Research

Last Updated: 20th Aug 2018

By Larry Maltby

Black Hills Institute.

The company that became the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research started in 1974 as “Black Hills Minerals”. The name was given to Peter Larson and James A. Honert by Willard L. Roberts who had used the name since 1946. The name was changed to Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in 1979 when they began working at the current location in Hill City, South Dakota. Neal Larson and Robert Farrar also worked with the company while they were students at the South Dakota School of Mines and later became co-owners.

The main focus of the business is the excavation and preparation of fossils including major dinosaur skeletons. The skill that the Institute has in this endeavor rivals that of the major universities. While searching for fossils in the badlands and grasslands of South Dakota the men developed a keen interest in Fairburn agates. The Institute also displays a superb selection of these colorful fortification agates.

This is the cast skull of the Tyrannosaurus rex “Sue” that was excavated by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in1990, (see story to the right).
The story of "Sue".

One of the Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons excavated by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research is dubbed “Stan” after Stan Sacrison who made the discovery in the spring of1987.
Triceratops from the Lance Formation, Niobrara County, Wyoming was collected by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research 2002.

The original of this specimen is on display in the Sauier Museum at Aathal-Seegraben, Switzerland. It was discovered by Kirby Siber near Shell, Wyoming. The preparation was done by the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. It is assigned to the genus Apatosaurus.
Triceratops from the Lance Formation, Niobrara County, Wyoming.

Toxochelys from the Mooreville Chalk in Alabama is similar to a modern day loggerhead turtle.

Palm Leaf, Sabalites sp, from Eocene lake deposits, Lincoln Co. Wyoming.

“The Custer Queen. This 53.5 Lb. park agate is the largest single pattern Fairburn Agate yet discovered. It was discovered in the 1950’s by Harvey Lancaster of Custer. For over 20 years this agate was in a private collection in Minnesota, until Roger Clark of Appleton, Wisconsin purchased this specimen with the sole intention of bringing it back to the Black Hills. Donated in 2004 by Roger Clark and the Tom Estes Memorial Fund.”

State Park Agates.
State Park Agate.

These agates (above) were collected prior to the early 1960’s before the prohibition of collecting in Custer State Park. Like Teepee Canyon, the documentation of this in-situ location of banded agates in the limestone formations that encircle the Hills provides valuable information of the source of Fairburn Agates that abound in the alluvial gravels to the southeast of the Black Hills.

Teepee Canyon Agate.
Another view of the Teepee Canyon Agate on the left.

This very large “Teepee Canyon Agate” is on display at the Black Hills Institute in a custom built case. This is the largest Teepee Canyon Agate that I have ever seen. It shows a relative narrow band of brown chert with a massive center of banded agate. The calcite vug illustrates part of the geology of the Teepee Canyon deposit. The agates occur in a horizontal strata within the limestone host rock that is about two or three feet wide. At the top of this band are often dissolution channels that are lined with calcite crystals and partially exposed chert nodules that have red jasper centers. The best agate nodules are usually found at the bottom of the band. In some areas the chert nodules are duds with no agate at all. In other areas all of the nodules will contain banded agate.

Teepee Canyon Agate.

Teepee Canyon Agate with a smoky amethyst center.
Teepee Canyon Agate with an amethyst center.

There is a dedicated group of Fairburn Agate collectors. Some of them have amazing collections assembled over many years that are seldom seen by others. The Fairburn agate collection displayed at the Black Hill Institute is outstanding. It is a large display of very fine agates that shows the diversity of color and pattern of these unique specimens. A selected few are shown below.

Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.
Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.
Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.
Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.
Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.

Fairburn Agate.

This article is linked to the following museum: Black Hills Institute of Geological Research (South Dakota)

Article has been viewed at least 602 times.


Thanks Larry

Nice article. Great fossils on display.

Keith Compton
24th Aug 2018 8:23am

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