This sounds like the plot of a movie with the word “Curse” and an explanation point in the title, but it’s actually a sad but true tale that hopefully has a scientific or medical explanation. World renowned paleontologist Mike Getty was stricken by an unknown and fatal illness while working at a Triceratops fossil site in Thornton, Colorado. While initial reports say his sudden death was not caused by an accident at the site, no other possible causes other than “unexpected illness” were released.
Mike Getty was only 50 but had a long and storied history in paleontology and especially with Triceratops and similar species. His job as the chief fossil preparator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science was the primary reason he was at the dig site in Thornton – a little over 10 miles from Denver – where construction workers discovered the fossils last month. He was also recognized as one of the top field workers in the world when it came to extracting bones from stones, but the fact that it could potentially be a Triceratops (which Getty revealed last week that it was) meant that there could be no better person at the site than Mike Getty, for whom the species Utahceratops gettyi (a Triceratops relative) was named for after he discovered it in Utah.
Getty’s fame probably attracted many to the field of archeology and his sudden passing is a sign of its dangers as a career, especially in field work. Dig sites are often in areas of intense heat or frigid temperatures, in remote areas of countries whose political climates may be as volatile as their environmental ones, and in locales filled with dangerous animals, flesh-eating bacteria or insects carrying malaria, Lyme disease or worse. When you’re digging with sharp implements in precarious spots, there’s always the risk of accidents. Then there’s the alleged curses, although they’re most often associated with relics and monuments of humans, not dinosaurs. Most accidents or deaths associated with curses are more likely to be coincidences.
But this mysterious death was in Thornton, a nice suburb of Denver. The only curses associated with this site might be from local property owners complaining about traffic or from the Denver International Airport and its multitude of conspiracy theories ranging from its alleged swastika shape to its supposed links to a new world order to its suspected secret underground bunker. A more likely ‘curse’ might be that associated with working at a job that involved tremendous physical stress and much breathing of dust.
Whatever took Mike Getty at such a young age, we join the world in mourning the passing of such a talented and dedicated paleontologist.