With time on our prospecting trip running out, we hit the hills early yesterday. The ridge we hiked down had some great exposure and the area turned out to be littered with fossil bone. Around every corner we found piles of Triceratops bone many of which had just been resting on the surface degrading for a long time. Sometimes I’d stumble across a nice bone on the surface, but a little digging into the hill revealed it was just a lone bone, resting out in the Montana sunlight.
Early in the morning I spotted a foot long thin ridge of bone protruding from a hillside well below where I was hiking. I made my way down to check it out and noticed the distinctive triangular bones on the margin of a frill just peeking out. Holding my breath a bit, I started peeling sediment off the bone, which continued improving in condition deeper into the hill. It was a good sign! Clearly there was a large portion of the frill diving into the overburden here. Since we only have a prospecting permit, and could never take out a whole Triceratops skull without an excavation permit, I chose to stop digging there, consolidate and cap what was exposed. It could be that this piece of frill is not attached to anything at all. OR it could be that the entire skull is waiting just beneath the mudstone layers of that hillside. We’ll only find out when we come back to excavate what we’ve found.
More hiking brought more sites, including these huge eroding bones on the top of a butte that could be spotted from 100 meters away. There were at least five bones exposed here and this is a site that will merit further excavating.
At then end of the ridge there were some beautiful views including a broken down cabin in the valley. But alas, this is clearly then end of this hike, time to head back to the hills behind to search for more bone.
Our second day of prospecting was spectacular as we hiked amongst a rainbow of wildflowers. There was no shortage of bone either. We spent a couple of hours collecting from a micro site (a sediment layer loaded with tiny bones and teeth). Here we collected fossils of many different species including croc osteoderms and teeth, different turtles, gar scales, and meat and plant eating dinosaurs.
Later we hiked further into the badlands and found several promising sites including at least two horned dinosaur localities, a possible theropod site, and tons of other sites we didn’t have enough time to dig into.
At the end of the day we made some friends including this awesome salamander!
It was a hot one yesterday and looks to be even hotter today! Still waiting for something special to turn up at the surface but who knows what’s hiding just under the surface at he sites we already found.
After two weeks of prospecting and finding only a handful of localities in New Mexico, it was a joy to spend a day poking around the bountiful Hell Creek. Of course in New Mexico anything we found was likely to be new, here in the Hell Creek much more of the ancient fauna is already described.
Mary Schweitzer and I found bone within the first half hour and by the end of the day had run across bone at almost ever turn. I spent the morning checking out a fair weather turtle.
The afternoon we dug on a duckbill dinosaur site that Mary found with good success. I hauled a vert up the hill, but with only a surface permit, the rest will have to wait!
On our last days in New Mexico, we hit another couple of promising basins, with little luck. Most of what we found was alive…
So we collected all the materials we could from our surface permits, took in the beautiful views, and packed up and headed north to prospect the Crevasse Canyon Formation before heading back to Raleigh.
Our short time hunting in the Crevasse Canyon Formation turned up a few promising things, including some beautiful dinosaur tracks. Unfortunately these are two big to fit in our gear, so we’ll just have to bring equipment to get some 3D models of these beauties next year!
Now we’ll take everything back to the lab and begin the long process of cleaning and preparing the fossils we recovered. Next year we’ll have some serious excavating to do on the sites we found, particularly Elk Run, from where we picked up a ton of bone from several individuals. Stay tuned to find out more on what we found on our trip to New Mexico this year and visit for more info on our next trip to Montana in June!
Once we’d found a basin with bone, we hit the area with a fine tooth comb, spending a week scouring the hillsides for more sites. In total we turned up a few fragmentary theropod bones, a very large upper leg bone in sandstone, some crocodile scutes, a few turtles, plant fossils, and one hillside with 42 vertebrae, limb and pelvic bones on the surface, and chunks of a very large, unusual looking turtle. Next year we’ll go back to several of these hills and open quarries. With any luck even better bones are still resting inside the hill.