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Salvaging the past

By Chris Vondracek intern@wctrib.com NEW LONDON -- For many years Larry Levin combed local pastures and fields for remnants of Native American and early settler culture. But when he traveled to Mobridge, S.D., and the Missouri River in the late 1...

By Chris Vondracek

intern@wctrib.com

NEW LONDON -- For many years Larry Levin combed local pastures and fields for remnants of Native American and early settler culture. But when he traveled to Mobridge, S.D., and the Missouri River in the late 1980s, his mind got turned onto a new brand of hunting.

"A trip out to South Dakota got me hooked on fossils and dinosaur bones," he said.

Levin usually made the trip out west when the water was at its lowest, usually around Memorial Day and Labor Day. For years, he would walk the banks of the Missouri up into North Dakota, looking for whatever erosion revealed.

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As he's branched out as a hunter, Levin has stumbled upon some of his most mind-boggling treasures.

"When you see something this big, you holler, 'cause when that is in the river you can see this big blue thing sticking up," Levin said, holding what an expert has verified as a brontosaurus bone over 300 million years old.

In the early 1990s, however, South Dakota made it illegal to pick anything up along the river. Deterred, but not out of options, Levin came to hear about ammonites and received the OK from some ranchers in the Eagle Butte area west of the Missouri to hunt for them on their property. Ammonites are fossils that resemble petrified coconut halves with a skeleton of an animal on one end and its reflection on the other end.

Dinosaur bones, rattlesnake skins and rattles are all items now in his museum that he picked up on the trips to South Dakota.

Levin said he knows hunters such as himself are criticized by people who say they are destroying the search sites. The justification for him is that the fossils and artifacts he finds will, over time, be destroyed by the elements.

"I think of myself as salvaging the past," he said.

Here in the museum, Levin is doing plenty of salvaging.

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