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The Dig at Polecat Bench: Summer, 1961 by ProQuest

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Then I had an encouraging thought. It struck me that Professor Jepsen probably hadn't run into many Jews at Princeton, and so his prejudice might just reflect the stereotypes circulating in that narrow community. Faced with new evidence, he would naturally, as a man of science, want to correct any errors in his thinking. So by holding up under the sizzling badlands sun and displaying my sterling character over the course of the summer, I figured I could set him straight.

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									essay / memoir




The Dig at Polecat
Bench: Summer, 1961
john morgan




P
        rof. Glenn L. Jepsen, trim, graying, older than I’d expected, led
        me down to the basement of the museum at Princeton and pulled out
        an intricate golf-ball-sized skull from one of the Paleocene drawers.
        Using a pocket magnifying glass, he showed me the structure of tiny
bones around the ear, but his explanation quickly outpaced my grasp of
cranial anatomy.
    “We’ll be looking for more of these,” he said dryly.
    Then, after reviewing my background—the early fascination with
dinosaurs and my volunteer work at Yale’s Peabody Museum—Jepsen asked
me whether I thought I could hold up over ten weeks of digging out in the
Wyoming badlands. “It goes well up over 100 degrees out there,” he warned,
“and there’s no shade to speak of.”
    I brought up my camping trip to the Southwest a few summers before
and told him the heat hadn’t bothered me. As an aside, I conceded that
toward the end of that trip I’d fallen off a cliff.
    “Really? Any broken bones?”
    “Just my skull.”
    I’d hoped to pass this off as a joke, but Jepsen held up a hand for me to
stand still, took my chin between thumb and forefinger and directed it to the
side. He was a patient man, a careful observer, and as he continued to check
me out, noting the crook in my nose, my blue-gray eyes, and teenage acne, I
wondered if he thought he could penetrate my character by scrutinizing the
contours of my skull.
    It was only a tiny fracture, I explained, and had never shown up on

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the x-rays. True, I’d been unconscious for three days, but I was okay now, I
insisted—adding that I really wanted to go on the expedition.
      Apparently satisfied, Jepsen said that he had reservations about my
youth, but since he was short of hands and I had a strong recommendation
from Dr. Gregory of Yale, he was willing to take me along. Then, as we
moved toward the staircase, he asked: “By the way, Mr. Morgan, what is your
family’s religion?”
 
								
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