USD researcher's work topic of magazine story Professor Tim Heaton displays fossils of a brown bear that was excavated in southeastern Alaska. (Photo by Gary Keller/University of South Dakota) His research has taken him to some faraway places and now it has landed this University of South Dakota paleontologist in the pages of U.S. News and World Report.
Tim Heaton, who is chair of the Departments of Earth Sciences and Physics at USD, was featured in the Feb. 23 edition (www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/040223/misc/23first.htm) of the popular magazine for discovering an ancient spear point on Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, Canada.
Heaton has spent 12 of the last 13 summers searching for bird and mammal fossils in caves located in southeastern Alaska in an attempt to reconstitute climate history of the region using those fossils as a guide.
Prior to his research, the history of this area was little more than speculation. Thanks to his research, which is ongoing, a clearer historical record is emerging.
U.S. News was particularly interested in the significance of Dr. Heaton's discoveries for the light they shine on the earliest inhabitants of North America. Radiocarbon tests of bear bones found near the spear point date the find at about 12,000 years old, which makes it the earliest sign of human activity on the Northwest Coast. This � and other findings from Heaton � makes the Northwest Coast a very likely route for first entry into the Americas. Heaton said that further research could turn up an even older record of human activity.
Heaton's trips have led to extraordinary opportunities for students at The University of South Dakota to participate in the research process. In fact, five undergraduate students from USD accompanied him on his last trip with one � who also happened to be his daughter � making the discovery that ended up in U.S. News.
Professor Heaton is not overwhelmed by the attention, in part because he is no stranger to the national spotlight. Earlier findings graced the pages of National Geographic Magazine and grants from the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation have allowed him to continue his research.
So, what will be the next exciting discovery and where will we read about it? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: Heaton will continue to make important discoveries and he will likely be accompanied at the time by students from USD.
To keep up with Heaton's latest discoveries, visit his Web site at www.usd.edu/~theaton/