A chance fossil find leads to fame

Archival photograph of Mignon Talbot, who taught geology and geography at Mount Holyoke from 1904 to her retirement in 1935.

By Keely Sexton

When State Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis, a Democrat from Framingham, wanted to educate people about the legislative process, he asked a legislative question that was sure to garner attention: what should be the official state dinosaur of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? The contest pitted Podokesaurus holyokensis against Anchisaurus polyzelus and the vote was put to the people. In the end, Podo got the most votes and received the high honor. The decision announced on February 4, 2021.

Podokesaurus holyokensis was found by Mount Holyoke College professor Mignon Talbot in 1910, when she encountered it on one of her many walks. It was the only fossil of its kind discovered. Talbot, who taught geology (and later geography) from 1904 to her retirement in 1935, was the first woman to name and describe a dinosaur. The diminutive carnivore's name, Podokesaurus holyokensis, means the “swift-footed lizard of Holyoke.” 

Sadly, the original fossil was destroyed in a fire at Williston Hall, which burned to the ground in 1917, though cast replicas still exist.

Watch the video.

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