Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mother's Day Site...revisited

Well, we're gearing up for our return trip to Montana. With less than five weeks until our departure from Cincinnati (egads!), our gear and tools are being counted and checked for damage, vehicles are being procured (and given a thorough tune-up), and we're trying to conclude the more administrative responsibilities we have here before saddling-up for the 26-hour cross-country drive.

Early in preparations for the 2006 season of the Dinosaur Field School, Dr. Glenn Storrs explained the history of the quarry where our dinosaurs are being unearthed every summer. I wanted to share that once again so those of you who are joining us for the first time can have a little bit of background.

The Mother's Day Site, in south-central Montana, was discovered (on Mothers' Day, natch!) in 1996 by Kurt Padilla, a volunteer for the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. The site was worked for two years for MOR by Kristy Curry-Rogers (now at the Science Museum of Minnesota). With other projects in the Cretaceous taking priority, MOR was unable to continue its excavations at Mother's Day and with their blessing (thanks again, Jack!), staff at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asked me to take on the excavations at the site in order to preserve its fossils for the benefit of the American people and the scientific community in general. As with all vertebrate fossil sites on federal land, we work under permit to the BLM and all collected specimens are reposited at Cincinnati Museum Center where they can be accessed by all.

The site preserves thousands of bones of dozens of, mostly young, sauropod dinosaurs. We believe that a single herd of gracile diplodocids, probably Diplodocus, became trapped at a shrinking water hole during seasonal drought about 140 million years ago. The site is thus a monospecific, catastrophic assemblage that provides insight into Late Jurassic environments and paleoecology, and on the paleobiology of a single species of giant dinosaur. Of course, the seven years of work up to this point have given us a better understanding of the site than when we began our excavations. A master's degree under my supervision at the University of Cincinnati by T. Scott Myers (now at Southern Methodist University) has been completed recently on the taphonomy (environmental and depositional history) of MDS and has answered many of our initial questions. Scott and I are undertaking to publish this work now.

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