Ken Rose started his fossil collection in his New Jersey basement when he was in third or fourth grade.
He has since traveled the globe in search of fossils, most often returning to the Bighorn Basin to probe early mammalian life in the Eocene epoch. While Rose may at first look professorial with his bald dome, beard and glasses, he’s at home in the badlands he explores, as rugged as the country around him.
“Somewhere I got bitten by the natural history bug,” he said in an interview posted at a John Hopkins school of Medicine website. As a kid, he sent specimens to the American Museum of Natural History.
By age 14 he was meeting with the curator of the Smithsonian Institution.
He was valedictorian of his high school class, went to Yale, Harvard and got his Ph.D from the University of Michigan in 1979. At age 65, his curriculum vitae runs 18 pages long.
One reviewer called his book “The Beginning of the Age of Mammals” a “magisterial contribution” to the literature. The tome runs 448 pages and costs $160.
During his weeks-long summer field trips, you might catch him at Maggie’s Café in Worland, or bouncing over dirt roads in a beater 1990 Suburban wearing his straw Stetson. The expedition camps out on BLM land along Fifteenmile Creek.
Rose made his first fossil-hunting trip to Wyoming 46 years ago. Since then, he and others have reconstructed the paleo-ecology of the area. Before his four decades of work, only about 10 percent of the fossilized fauna had been described. Now it’s up to about 30 percent.
“We can see how these animals were living,” he said.
A professor at the Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution at John Hopkins School of Medicine, Rose seeks funding each summer for his trips.
This year he was supported by a grant from National Geographic for a project that seeks to use GIS and satellite information to predict where fossil beds might be exposed.
Rose likes to enjoy and critique a glass of wine in the evening at his sandy camp. When he talks about climate change and its effects, the looming changes are personal as well as existential.
Within 25 years, “wine country in California will have disappeared,” he said.