About “fossil Guy” don Johnson & HIS COLLECTION

The Eastern Iowa Paleontology Project (EIPP) has its roots back to the year 1999, when Don Johnson of Iowa City began field-collecting and purchasing fossils – since then his collection has grown into one of the largest private fossil collections in Iowa.  Wanting to share his knowledge and collection with the general public, Don began volunteering his time as a paleontology educator at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History (UIMNH) in July 2002.  Since that time he has taught over 150 educational programs at the UIMNH, the Science Station in Cedar Rapids, the University of Northern Iowa Museums, the Children’s Hospital of Iowa, Boy Scout meetings, and children’s summer camps under his self-given nickname “The Fossil Guy.”  His largest attendance thus far was over 350 persons on one Saturday afternoon at his UIMNH Spring 2004 Tyrannosaurus rex program.  His programs have been featured in many newspaper articles as well.


In the spring of 2005, Don organized the EIPP in order to further his desire to promote science literacy and education through the wonder of paleontology.  In the fall of 2005, he arranged for the purchase of an unprepared fossil skeleton of a juvenile duck-billed dinosaur with the financial help of the other EIPP sponsors.  The dinosaur was named “Laura” after Don’s daughter.  He hopes to put “Laura the Kid Dinosaur” on public display in Eastern Iowa as the foundation of a future world-class paleontology exhibit, which would also make use of the rest of his private paleontology collection.  This goal will require the help of many individuals and organizations in Eastern Iowa.


Don has a BS degree in Physics/Math (double major) from Illinois State University (ISU), received with top honors.  He has experience as a research assistant, teaching assistant, and private and group tutor.  He is currently employed as a clerk at the University of Iowa.  His interests also include astronomy and computer science.  He has field experience prospecting for and excavating fossils from the Cedar Valley Formation and Pleistocene deposits (Iowa), Hell Creek Formation (South Dakota, Montana), and Brule Formation (Nebraska).  He is a member of the Mid-America Paleontology Society (MAPS), and the Cedar Valley Rocks & Minerals Society.  He recently ventured into the realm of web site design in order to create this web site.   Don plans to obtain a position as a science educator or curator of a museum or science center in the future, while pursuing an advanced degree in museum science.




Don Johnson began self-collecting and purchasing items for his private paleontology collection in 1999.  Since that time, it has grown into one of the largest such collections in the state of Iowa with over 1000 items.  Don has taught over 150 volunteer educational programs as “The Fossil Guy” in Eastern Iowa since 2002 using items from his collection.  In the spring of 2005, Don formed (and is currently President) of the Eastern Iowa Paleontology Project (EIPP) with the hopes of establishing a world-class paleontology exhibit centered on his collection.  Fossils, fossil replicas, and paleontology models are included in the collection.  The focus of the collection is on vertebrate paleontology, although about 10% of the fossils are invertebrate fossils, and 5% are fossil plant remains.


LATE CRETACEOUS DINOSAURS (80 - 65 million years ago (mya))


The prize fossil of the collection is the 90%+ complete skeleton of “Laura the Juvenile Duck-billed Dinosaur” (purchased with the assistance of the EIPP sponsors).  Other fossils include a variety of dinosaur bones (including a large Triceratops scapula), teeth (including several T. rex teeth), claws, coprolite, and a duckbill egg - mostly from the famous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota and Montana.  Some of the bones including a duckbill ulna have chew marks.  Also included are a variety of small fossils including microfossils of plants and animals that lived with the dinosaurs.  Dinosaur cast replicas include the “Peck’s Rex” full-size T. rex skull (and separate set of 4 jaws, vertebra, rib, and teeth), a full-size Allosaurus skull replica (Jurassic), an Edmontosaurus skin tail section with skin, a Brachylophosaurus partial skull and dentary, an Eubrontes dinosaur footprint, Utahraptor and Albertosaurus feet, Albertosaurus arm, and ancient flier replicas including Archaeopteryx and pterosaurs.  Dinosaur models include a Velociraptor skeleton (1:2 scale), a fleshed-out Velociraptor (1:2 scale), a T. rex skeleton (1:10 scale), and a T. rex, Triceratops, and Edmontosaurus (all 1:35 scale).  This is just a sampling of this huge portion of his collection.




These Oligocene fossils include extinct mammal skulls and skeletons including those of oreodonts, 3-toed horses (Mesohippus), hornless-rhinos (Hyracodon and Subhyracodon), vicious hyaenodons, giant pig-like entelodonts, saber-tooth nimravids, and many small mammals.  Also included are a tortoise shell, mammal coprolites, and a variety of small fossils including microfossils.  The collection is a thorough sampling of the fossils from this formation in South Dakota and Nebraska.


PLEISTOCENE MINERALIZED BONES (1.8 mya – 10,000 years ago)


The Pleistocene (Ice Age) collection includes a partial bison skull and other bison bones, mastodon jaw and teeth, mammoth hair and teeth, horse skull and jaw, cave bear jaw and paw, alligator remains, and many small fossils.  Replicas include a Smilodon (large saber-tooth cat) skull, and Dire Wolf skull.




Other items from his collection include microfossils, Paleozoic invertebrate fossils (including many trilobites and local Devonian fossils), fossil shark teeth including several Megalodon teeth, insects trapped in amber, an Eremotherium femur, Mazon Creek nodules (Carboniferous fossils), a variety of plant fossils (especially leaves and petrified wood), modern skulls (bear, alligator, wild pig, etc.), modern skeletons (puma, beaver, alligator, turkey, etc.), replicas of modern skeletons (including human and chimpanzee), replicas of human ancestor skulls, and Native American artifacts.






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Don points out the bone-crunching teeth of T. rex to captivated onlookers at an educational program in the spring of 2004 at the UI Museum of Natural History (photo courtesy of Iowa City Press-Citizen).

Don teaches an audience at his Fall 2005 “Meet ‘Laura,’ the Duck-billed Dinosaur” program at the UI Museum of Natural History.

EIPP President “Fossil Guy“ Don Johnson with his full-size replica of “Peck’s Rex” Tyrannosaurus rex skull.

Don explains to UI Museum of Natural History visitors that T. rex had limited brain power (Fall 2004).

A portion of Don’s collection including (from top to bottom) a mounted oreodont skeleton, Native American artifacts, dinosaur fossils, replica sabertooth cat skull, and mineralized Ice Age bison skull.

Fossil mammals from the White River Badlands of South Dakota and Nebraska make up part of Don’s collection.

Some of Don’s Ice Age bison bones including a partial skull, jaw, sacrum, limb bones, and vertebra can be seen in this photograph.

Eastern Iowa Paleontology Project

“Bringing DINOSAURS to Iowa”