Palo Duro’s dinosaur population takes center stage in WT presentation

Local News


CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – West Texas A&M University alumnus Dr. James L. Cornette is set to take audiences back in time to when dinosaurs still roamed the Llano Estacado during a discussion for Friends of the Cornette Library.

Son of the library’s namesakes and a 1955 WT graduate, Cornette is scheduled to present “The Late Triassic Period of Palo Duro Canyon” at 10 a.m. Nov. 13 in the Hazlewood Room at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. The discussion will also be held virtually, with registration available here.

As a professor emeritus of mathematics at Iowa State University, WT said Cornette became fascinated with dinosaurs after walking in Palo Duro Canyon in 1980, within a part of the Figure 3 Ranch owned by the family of his late wife Carolyn Christian Cornette.

“I came across a phytosaur tooth,” Cornette said. “It was a very insignificant fossil, a broken tooth that was only about three-fourths of an inch in size, but learning about it and about the Triassic period put me very much on the path of paleontology.”

Cornette went on to earn a master’s degree in paleontology in 2002, after his retirement from Iowa State and the National Institutes of Health in 2000. Since then, according to WT, he has volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and worked with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in researching plant life from approximately 56 million years ago.

“I sort of knew what paleontology was before finding that tooth, but when I learned it was about 204 million years old, that grabbed me,” Cornette said.

“I first met Jim and Carolyn Cornette 12 years ago and found them to be charming, interesting and gracious people,” said Cornette Library Director Shawna Kennedy-Witthar, “Over the years I have enjoyed hearing Jim talk about the paleontology digs that he has participated in, and I know our audience will learn immensely from this presentation.”

The Friends of the Cornette Library, described by the university, was founded in 1975 and made of members aiming to support the intellectual pursuits of WT faculty, staff, students, and the people of the Panhandle region. To that end, they participate in activities such as donating books and other library materials and sponsoring programs like Cornette’s presentation.

“Oh, it’s a very special library,” Cornette said, delighted to speak to the library’s supporters, “It’s named for my parents, and WT and Canyon are home for me.”

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