Category Archives: Feathered Dino Death Pit Expedition 2012

End of the Season

The end of the field season is usually bittersweet. On the one hand, we’ve been gone from our homes for 6 weeks in harsh conditions with not much rest and even fewer showers. We are down to only 4 crew members, all with bent backs and sore knees. Camp food has started to get old and we are longing for our own beds. The sunsets are gorgeous, but it’s been too long since we’ve seen anything green.

On the other hand, we do this because we love the rock, the bone it produces, and the questions those bones raise and may eventually answer. There is still so much to be learned about the mid-Cretaceous dinosaur fauna of North America and its potential interchange with dinosaurs from Asia, as well as the evolution of the feathered dinosaurs, such as our favorite therizinosaur, Falcarius. More data is needed and that’s why we’re out here. It’s hard work, but well worth it.

Last sunset at CGQA sampling of specimens

When we left the Mussentuchit locality 3 weeks ago, we had a wide variety of specimens, including various dinosaurs, turtles, and crocodiles. And as we leave the Crystal Geyser Quarry now, we take with us 170 numbered specimens (some just single bones, some as jackets with multiple bones), from a huge sauropod ischium to a teeny-tiny caudal vertebra (both pictured below). We’ve found bones not previously documented for Falcarius and there’s always the possibility that some of what we’ve found may belong to a previously unknown species. We’ve mapped the location of each and every bone in hopes that their position may tell us what happened to these animals and how their remains came to rest in this place. With all of this new data, we can depart contented.

Sauropod ischiumcaudal vertebra

And so we head home with our trucks “severely overloaded” with fossils. There will be plenty of work to do back at the museum, but our work in the mid-Cretaceous of Utah is over until next year. We are ready to go home.

Final crew shot

More Rain at CGQ

The Crystal Geyser Quarry is known for being hot, dry, and dusty. However, this has not exactly been the case this field season. While there have been plenty of hot, dry, and dusty moments, we have also been experiencing an unexpected amount of rain. As I write, I am sitting in our kitchen tent listening to the rain hit the tarp above my head and the thunder rolling around us. Earlier this week, we were lucky to have two cool nights in a row thanks to the evening rains that doused our camp. And our kitchen tent tried to fly away once again in a larger storm last week.
The kitchen tent, home sweet home.
The kitchen tent, home sweet home.
Although the rain is sometimes an inconvenience, it brings much needed relief from the more typical desert conditions. And these storms are an important reminder to always be prepared with a tidy camp and a well organized quarry.
View of camp from nearby the quarry site.
View of camp from nearby the quarry site.
UPDATE: I could not get this post uploaded before going to the quarry this morning, but of course, after only a few hours of quarry work, we were chased out by a massive storm. The whole time we did spend digging was some of the windiest we’ve seen here at CGQ. The storms have continued to roll through all day.



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.


Falcarius bones litter the base of the quarry.
Falcarius bones litter the base of the quarry.




New camp, new site, new dinosaurs

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!



Finished the molding of the two claws with success.  Was kind of a nail biter when the Vinac did not initially appear to be working as a separator between the two halves of the mold, but with a little bit of coaxing, the two halves opened up and the claws were perfectly in tact on the in inside.  Casting went quickly with 7 casts of each claw finished in one day.  See below for the final steps in this process and a little bit of art at the end.

First side done. Ready to pour second side after a coating of Vinac (B15) as a separator between the two sides. Wouldn’t want the next pour of rubber to adhere to the first pour. The claws would then be trapped inside.
Mold is complete and specimens are undamaged. Success.
Plaster is in and the cast is curing. Using a little light bulb heat to help promote the curing process.
Just like the original but in albino form. First of seven casts. Still a few more to make, but definitely a good start.
Getting crafty with the final products. Next step is painting then we will be sending them out to our generous sponsors. Thanks everyone for helping to make a successful 2012 collecting season at the Crystal Geyser Quarry!

Claw Molding

Finally getting to the molding process of two of the Falcarius claws collected at the Crystal Geyser Quarry.  Reconstructed the missing tip on one and added just a smidgeon at the end of the other to complete it.  Looking good so far.  We’ll see in 24 hours how the molding material set up and get to pouring the other side.  Then on to the casting.

Two claws set up for molding. These specimens have been carefully surrounded by clay along the flat edge of the claw. This is the best spot to have a seem in the two-part mold.
Claws and mixed rubber ready to go. The clay base has been surrounded by a clay wall and sealed. A groove has been created on the flat surface of clay surrounding the claws. If you look closely you will see pointed numbering that will be a permanent marking to identify the specimens.
The mixed rubber in liquid form was first painted on the surface to ensure that no air bubbles will be trapped. The remainder of the rubber was then poured into the mold, with a little bit of giggling to release any additional bubbles. Now the mold will sit for 24 hours (the curing time of the rubber).

Claw Bones in Prep

The field expedition to the Mussentuchit and the Crystal Geyser Quarry in Utah was a success.  Sometimes spending three weeks together with the same small group of people can be questionable.  One person can ruin the entire mood.  This was not one of those trips and I am happy to say that many specimens were collected and brought safely back to the museum for preparation.

I think you found a claw Alex (Juarez). Bring it back to the Lab for preparation

The first task was to  determine which specimens should be placed at the top of the preparation list.  The three unguals collected at the crystal geyser quarry were selected as highest priority.  One of them will be molded and cast as a thank you to our rockethub feulers.

Nice find. Too bad it is missing the tip