It’s week 5 of our summer expedition and the crew is pretty worn down. We are down to the last holdovers: two NCSU graduate students, a single NCSU undergraduate, and Asst. Director, Paul Brinkman at the helm.
Despite the wear, there is something uplifting about digging at the Crystal Geyser Quarry. Here ones tireless work is constantly rewarded, with new surprises lurking under every chunk of rock removed. We’ve been finding great bone here, some of the best I have seen at the site in a decade. Our first complete fibula (lower leg bone), plenty of new femora (upper leg bones) for our study on Falcarius growth and other treats, such as claws and teeth.
I am also fairly certain I uncovered several bits of skull that were previously unknown for this animal, which is terribly exciting although, with much of it encased in a nodule, confirmation of my field ID awaits preparation back in the lab.
More of our new sauropod has turned up and we are excited to be able to show off these bones being prepared at the museum. There is something awe-inspiring about sauropod bones that isn’t hard to understand. The sheer size of each individual bone is breathtaking.
Learning to excavate fossilized bones when they are preserved in a jumbled mass is one of the paleontologists great field skills, and one of the things the students have come to learn. This photo gives you an idea of how tricky it can be to think out a step by step plan to removing bones like Pick Up Stixs from the quarry face.
Earlier this week we moved camps and goals, leaving behind our prospecting for new dig sites and new animals to excavate for 3 weeks at an established bone bed in eastern Utah. Here hundreds of a feathered dinosaur called Falcarius died. The bones litter four sides of a plateau, defining the scope of the death that occurred at the site about 125 million years ago. Typically we come here to dig up a growth sample of Falcarius, a small theropod, which is not logistically challenging. Recently, however, something much larger has been lurking just behind the theropod bones. Last year we excavated some pretty large vertebrae, which we speculated might belong to a sauropod or long neck dinosaur (those bones are still unprepared, so no way to really tell other than size). This year Paul has been busy uncovering a gigantic bone, which clearly belongs to a sauropod, so know we are sure we are going to have to plan for many years of digging up behemoth sized fossils. Good thing we brought all that plaster!
A favorite evening pastime around camp, hunting for scorpions with a black light. Apparently, my tent was a hot spot, much to my chagrin. Emily found a cutie inside her tent one morning (first time I’ve woken up to screaming at field camp) and another crawling up her chair a few days earlier. After week 2, the crew went a bit feral and it was scorpions for breakfast (sautéed with onions and peppers of course… what do you take us for?)
Yesterday the crew was tirelessly hunting for the source of the multiple exploded species on Suicide Hill. Here we found theropod bone, ornithischian bone, turtle and crocodile bone. We located bone in situ (in place in the ground) on all four sides of the hill. Khai Button (NCSU grad student) digs on the south side of Suicide Hill:
Susan Drymala (NCSU grad student) excavates the nicest bone on the east side of Suicide Hill, here is a neural arch (top part) of a vertebra:
We are headed back to the hill this morning to see if we can find additional sources for the bone fragments, clearly more than one individual from more than one bone layer is here. You might think that finding fossil bone in the Mussentuchit is the most difficult part of the job, but the truth is finding bone is easy, finding the bone layer where the bits of bone are eroding out of the hill can be near to impossible sometimes. Like finding a needle in a haystack!