Thursday, August 21, 2008

Analyzing the fossils back at the Peabody

After returning to the Peabody Vertebrate Paleontology lab, fossil preparators and museum scientists have established a list of finds. It includes fragmentary remains of Triceratops, Edmontosaurus, Ornithomimus, various smaller theropod and bird remains, soft-shelled turtles, baenid turtles, adocid turtles, compsemydid turtles, mud and snapping turtles, champsosaurs, crocodilians, salamanders, bowfin fish, and gars. As you can see, it was a very successful field season!

Hail Yale!

Some final 2008 field shots:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Our final group shot before hitting the road: 

From left: Ariel Revan, Aleck Zhou, Laura Wilson, Walter Joyce, Eric Sargis, Jacob McCartney and Ali Logan (me).

Our Final Day!

Our last day of the field was spent back in the Hell Creek prospecting one section that we had missed over the past three weeks. Regardless of whether we found anything exciting, the mammal team (Walter, Eric and I) were happy to be back in the comfort of fossils (and a working shower). One exciting find was the ungual (or distal) phalanx of an Ornithomimid dinosaur. This type of dinosaur probably looked a lot like an ostrich and was either herbivorous or omnivorous.
The front limbs of this animal were long and slender yielding powerful claws like the one that we found.

Photo of Struthiomimus claws from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Photographic recap of the past week themed: Lotsa stuff but no fossils..

We began the week in Theodore Roosevelt State Park optimistic for fossil turtles, reptiles, and mammals. Only one other paper had been published explaining where these types of Paleocene fossils (65-55 million years old) found within the park. We didn't have access to this paper, so we relied on park ranger word of mouth and set out on what seemed a wild-goose fossil chase. I am standing in front of the colorful but vertical buttes that we scaled during our four day stint in the Paleocene.

We knew we were in trouble on the very first day in the Park because we didn't find a single bone scrap. The area was blanketed with petrified wood fossils, usually a bad omen for fossil seekers because you tend not to find both types in the same area. Also, the area was much more vegetated compared to the dry and arid environments of the southern, Hell Creek-badlands in Marmarth.
Near the end of the second day in the National Park, our spirits were low and we were desperate for anything. At least the breathtaking sights offered some sort of consolation.

It was also VERY exciting when Walter caught this Rat snake...
and I found an enormous Elk antler.

Our spirits wavered further when we returned to camp to see that we had visitors. A herd of bison infiltrated our camp ground mid-rutting season. It took us 30 minutes to wait for the pack to move on.
Though, big and hulky, these animals were incredible up-close.

After the bison excitement died down, we returned to the field and went the whole day w/out avail. Much needed rain, but no fossils.

We called it quits during the middle of the fourth day and set off to Marmarth early to help finish up jackets and prospect the remaining bits of public land of North Dakota. Our spirits recovered after purchasing some local memorabelia and a relaxing night in the closest town (pop. 47).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Today we returned to Rattlesnake Butte for the third year in a row, looking for mammal jaw fragments from the Paleocene (~65 million years old). Because we have found almost half a dozen mammal jaw fragments (some with teeth) over the past two years, we returned to the site hoping for more. Jacob, Walter and Eric are photographed sending shovelfuls of dirt and overburden through a sifter. Like breaking up flour with a sifter, we passed the matrix sand through a thin wire mesh hoping that anything slightly larger like mammal teeth and/or jaws will remain. This is a very dirty job!

After spending the day painfully picking through sand and organic shale packed full with coal, we finally found a mammal jaw fragment. Well, Walter found one on the surface of the hill after we had sifted and dug through dirt all day. As you can see in this picture, Ariel and I had a thick coating of grime before the day was done.

Tomorrow part of the group will depart north to camp in the Roosevelt State Park while looking for Paleocene mammal fossils. We will be roughing it completely sans electricity and other luxuries (shower, stove, running water, blogging etc). That said, I won’t be writing again until our return on Friday! Wish us luck!