It’s been hot and extraordinarily dry in Utah the past two weeks as we’ve worked to collect all the bones from our two quarries. We’ve done a fair bit of prospecting too and from the look of the team’s clothes, folks are wearing thin.
Yesterday we finished up at the new orodromine site (MiniTroll) and the students remediated the quarry to look like the original hillside. This morning they packed up and headed to the airport for a flight home. Our second team arrived today and they’ll stay with us for the final two weeks (well most of them anyway). We’ve more work to do at the Last Chance quarry. The ones are diving steeply into the site and thus the backwall gets higher and higher. Presently the fossils are resting under about 7 feet of hillside. Most of which we have removed, but alas, since they are still getting deeper, that number is likely to go higher. We’ve decided to put in a few more days at the site before heading off to prospect further south and we’ll hit some very difficult to access outcrop here before we leave to ensure we haven’t missed any amazing finds up on the Cliffs of Insanity. All in all, it should be a stellar time.
Today we surface collected from a new site that a member of the crew found on an evening prospecting trip a few days ago. Now a barren wasteland, it once represented a place where the Cretaceous river flooded its bank, spilling sediment and bone across the surface. It’s quite a lengthy layer of bone, around 50 meters long and it took half a day to get a grid set up, particularly around the huge sandstone boulders peppering the hills.
We collected the bone from the surface and dug a few test pits to evaluate the quality of bone and the types of animals preserved. But honestly it’s been brutally hot here the past few days with heat indices around 113. And if you think the air temperature is high you should talk to one of the undergraduate students who commented today that the ground was too hot to sit on (well he actually put it in a different way…). Later when I put our acetone-based consolidants on some sediment surrounding a fossil bone it boiled on contact. Folks… the boiling point of acetone is around 133 degrees. So yeah, with surface temps somewhere near 130 today, I guess we did boil in the quarry. Quite literally.
This year’s Utah field season started out a little simpler than normal. We typically run 4 quarries simultaneously; however, this year we have only two main excavation sites: MiniTroll and Last Chance. I stumbled upon Last Chance in the last couple of days of the 2015 field season and was able to collect some tail vertebrae and a bit of the foot before closing down for the season. Anxious to return and see if more of this little guy awaited inside the hill, it was a very long year until we arrived last week to open the quarry. Small dinosaur remains are rare generally, so any bits of this critter are worth going after tour de force.
The first day we opened a 12 foot wide quarry but in the days since it’s obvious that all the bone is in a narrow 18 inch strip heading diagonally into the hill. Excavation is therefore slow, as only two people can crowd into the bone horizon. Still, more of the tail and spine have turned up and things look good for more bone this week. Fingers crossed.
MiniTroll is now a decent sized quarry and more vertebrae from the spine have turned up. We are hoping to have all the bone removed in the next couple of days and close down the site soon. MiniTroll may turn out to be one of the most complete skeletons we have excavated here. Only time and more prep will tell.