A sad day in the field this morning as our Field Methods course came to an end and our four undergraduates hopped a flight back to North Carolina. We’ve had an awesome crew these past two weeks and have made some great progress on our four dinosaur sites.
More and more bone is turning up at the Blue Bird Quarry (BBQ), formerly known as the sauropod site. Paul Brinkman and his team have been jacketing any and all bones that can be isolated from the main block. That block contains somewhere around 8 articulated sauropod vertebrae which we will try to pull in one extra large jacket. Today, I’ve been engineering a strategy to get that block (which should weight in at around 800 lbs) into the back of the truck… so far the plan involves a ramp imbedded with pipe as rollers, a bunch of cables, and a portable winch… stay tuned to see if we pull this off!
Big Daddy continues to yield more probable skull. We opened the site with a couple of days of picking, shoveling, and jackhammering, and now Lisa Herzog is leading the mapping and collection of Big Daddy bones. We led the students through their first jacket pull, a relatively minor effort moving about a 150 lb jacket a mile back to camp, down into a valley, up a steep hillside, over a sandstone cliff.
Suicide Hill contains the bones of a juvenile duckbill. The site is nice and flat, so not a lot of overburden to remove, which is nice… but many of the bones are imbedded in the top of a 6 inch sandstone block. We’ve been using the rock saw to cut those out and haul them back to camp. One of these jackets is going to be a real beastie to haul back to camp!
As for me, I’ve spent two quiet days deep in concentration collecting the surface exposed bones from Fortunate Son (our new plant-eating dinosaur site). The bones are quite jumbled together and need to be carefully separated. Because this site has the potential to yield a holotype specimen, it’s been slow and meticulous work. The view is incredible and I’ve been enjoying the work and the serenity of the landscape.
Its only been a few days since we set up camp in Utah and already great things are happening on this year’s expedition. We began by opening up three of the sites discovered last year, including two of our Late Cretaceous localities in the Mussentuchit Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation: Big Daddy skull site and Suicide Hill, the juvenile Eolambia. The third site we opened is actually in the famous Late Jurassic Morrison Formation. This latter site contains a juvenile sauropod skeleton discovered by an amateur family last summer.
Paul Brinkman and two students from Appalachian State University uncover the plaster cap protecting the sauropod skeleton from the winter elements.
Big Daddy is already yielding more skull material and other bones. Here Lisa, Khai, and Haviv excavate the Big Daddy site.
We’re ready and running! You can follow along with this year’s Utah expedition to the Mussentuchit Badlands (July 24th- August 24th) here at Expedition Live! with real time updates, photos, and blogs, and at #UTdinodig14 or @expeditionlive. You can also participate in live Skype sessions with the crew in the Daily Planet Theater at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences beginning Tuesday August 5th.
Wondering what it takes for a dozen people to live in the desert, miles and miles from civilization for 4 weeks? Watch the NC Museum of Natural Sciences pack our field vehicles for the three day drive to Utah below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!