Sunday, August 03, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Paleontology is not all glamorous, there is a lot of dirt, very hot days, and back-breaking work. However, on July 20th we all got to see a side of paleontology that many of us would like to forget (but none of us ever will).
The Beartooth Butte lies on the
First, imagine a picturesque “Sound of Music” setting where spinning in circles on a mountaintop actually seems like the right thing to do. Melting ice sheets, abundant wildflowers and alpine grasses, the occasional Grizzly Bear track…BEAUTIFUL. The hike across an alpine meadow bisected by a meltwater stream…EXCITING. The majesty of the
Now, we hit the tree line where a few million vicious, blood-thirsty mosquitos are waiting for us. Add to that the fact that the fossils slab we had come to find was now covered beneath a few tons of fresh landslide debris and you have the start of an idea of how the rest of the day went. What had been an exhilarating one-and-a-half mile hike to the fossil site became an excruciating three-mile trudge back out using our trusty “dino-wheel” gurney. Time wise, it took 45-minutes to get in and nearly five-hours to get back out.
I asked some of our crew for their quotes to help sum it up:
Mac: “This is Dante’s
Mike: (speaking to the mosquitos as he waves his arm around) “Fly my minions!”
Sara: (quoting a line from The Chronicles of Riddick) “If I owned this place and a place in Hell, I’d rent this one out and live in Hell.”
Ian: “All of this pestilence for some fish?”
Craig: “Uphill bothways just will not cut it anymore.”
Jason: (trying to keep everyone from losing it) “There will be no mutiny on this Bounty!”
Dr. Storrs: (repeated several times, I might add) “From the top of this ridge, it’s all downhill…until it’s uphill again”
BUT, the moral of the story is that we DID find some nice specimens, even if it was extremely difficult to get them out. For those of you eager enough to try hiking the
Laura, Ruth, Minna, Ian, Kevin and Susan had what I hope was a good week, as well, including some below-average temperatures and a generous quarry. Week Two went exceptionally well, adding 65 new numbered specimens to this year's total. We added several ribs and vertebrae, some exceptional foot elements all found in a single trench, and most notably, some Diplodocus teeth and palate. These were found, of course, by the newbie on the field crew, Craig (he's an archaeology/anthropology student from Ohio University, but we agreed to bring him anyway). He has adapted to the different matrix in which we work pretty well, and has added some levity to camp life.
Dale Gnidovic from Ohio State was with us for a little over a week, but headed back to Columbus after a few days of less than satisfying prospecting and what ended up being a disheartening development with the ranch we were supposed to get onto this year. There are many details I could share, but let's just say that the courts are involved so I'm "not at liberty to discuss" them.
Pat Monaco, who can only be described as a force of nature, also finished up her two-week stay with us on July 19th. We were all sad to see her go, but her sendoff dinner of bison marinara was out of this world. She'll hopefully be visiting us in Cincy in October so that we can show off the fine Cincinnati cuisine of Skyline Chili and Montgomery Inn ribs.
Pictures will be posted from Week Two as soon as I have an extended stay in Billings and can get away from the painfully slow Internet service at the YBRA.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Today will be their second full day in the field, and Wednesday will be their trip up the mountains to the Beartooth Plateau. In addition to the amazing geology, they will also find that the wildflowers are at their peak and quite beautiful.
Susan, Kevin and Ian have had the best luck thus far, uncovering 2 nearly perfectly preserved metacarpals and an associated ungal (toe) bone. Minna has been busy with some rather curious pieces, while Ruth has been following some pretty fragile fossils down into some very hard rock. Laura has a busy day of clearing some overburden, but found a rib at the end of day one. Mac, Craig, Mike, Lamont and I were busily trying to get some things out of the ground in an attempt to broaden our excavation area. Dale, Pat and Sara were off prospecting in some of the local Cloverly outcroppings, but had a somewhat disappointing day.
More posting as soon as I can.....
The first week was very successful, recovering 40 numbered fossils and related items. There were also several other plant materials recovered which need some further examination. One of the most common pieces recovered (as usual in the Mother's Day Quarry) were the small, smooth stones believed to be gastroliths (i.e. stomach stones) used by the large sauropods to aid in digestion. For modern examples of this process, we can look at common chickens which use small stones to further digest corn and other grains.
Mark, Kevin, Matt, Sandy and Russ had a great time (I hope), and we added a couple more field crew members in Lamont and Mike, and lost Lauren when she had to return to Cincinnati following a two-week leave from her role at the Museum back in Cincinnati. She was excited to leave some of the wildlife behind, in particular the fierce jackalopes which chased her off the hill on more than one occasion.
The week ended with a trip to the pig races in Bearcreek and an early morning visit to the top of the Beartooth Plateau at about 10,900 feet for a top-of-the-world sunrise on Sunday morning. There are some great images at http://dinosaurfieldschool.shutterfly.com.
I'm going to have to leave it here for now, but will post again as soon as possible.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I'll be posting some pictures this evening, and even more tomorrow evening along with a final fossil tally for the week, but I hope that everyone has had a great experience with us.
Russ and Sandy got started right away working on a couple of interesting fossils in the softer matrix (i.e. rock) higher up in the quarry. One particularly interesting item was a coossification (fusing of two bones) by what appeared to be a possible cancerous growth. It was very delicate, but they removed the bones like a pair of pros (this is their second summer with us). Kevin and Mark tackled some of the most difficult pieces of the week, which happened to also be in the hardest rock of the quarry. They have already removed a few ribs and some vertebrae, with a few more interesting pieces coming out hopefully on Saturday. Matt has had his hands full with several cervical vertebrae that have fallen victim to the "Mother's Day Curse" in which no one bone seems to come out without first having to remove several others which have been deposited in close proximity.
Mac, Sara, Lauren and Craig have been doing wonderfully well educating this week's crew about best approaches to removing difficult fossils. Ian has been racking up miles of hiking in his attempts to map the stratigraphy of the Mother's Day Site, a time-consuming and hot job.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Pat has been doing this for a couple of decades, traveling all over the country to serve meals for hungry geologists and paleontologists. In her "free time" she works on oil and gas pipelines doing fossil mitigation...that is looking through the trenches dug by pipeline crews to determine if there are any noteworthy fossils in the path of these major undertakings. It goes without saying, but she is a force of nature and she has won over all of our crew with her sense of humor and her culinary preparations.
No pork-n-beans or SPAM for the next week, thank goodness.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Dr. Storrs, Mac, Sara and Ian are prospecting on the Taylor Ranch near Edgar, MT. This is a prime Cloverly locality with the promise of many good finds to come. Today was their first opportunity to see it in person, and the cooperation of the ranch owner is testament to the quality program that Dr. Storrs and the other scientific staff at Cincinnati Museum Center have put together over the last decade. Craig and Lauren accompanied me into Billings today and our getting spoiled with their second showers at the YBRA in as many days.
We have opened the site, and wouldn't you know it, the fossils are just begging to be unearthed. Several nice limb bones and vertebrae have already shown themselves, onw of which is shwing an interesting pathology...perhaps a cancerous growth...but we won't know more until we get it out.
July 4th was a wonderful day in the Bighorn Basin, capped off by a cookout in Powell, Wyoming at the home of Winston and Beryl Churchill. This cookout traces it's roots to the 1920's, and all geologists and paleontologists in the Basin have an open invitation to attend. Nearly 70 people were in attendance this year, hailing from the Univ. of Florida, Johns Hopkins, the Smithsonian, the Univ. of Washington, the Univ. of Michigan and others. Many thanks the the Churchills for their wonderful hospitality.
July 4th also brought us Pat Monaco. For those of you who have read about our campsite food (beans, spam, spaghetti, etc.), Pat is the answer to our culinary prayers. Her first meal for us on July 5th was chicken curry with brown rice, vegetables and mango chutney. Tonight is supposed to bring with it buffalo marinara. Yummy! Pat is also a great conversation starter in camp. I've never heard any of our crew laugh so hard...
July 5th was a brief work day, followed by lunch at Bogart's in Red Lodge (you have to try the wheat crust pizza), and showers. Throughout dinner we watched a storm come from the northwest. As soon as dishes were washed, the skies opened up with marble-sized hail and about 10 minutes of gully-washing rain and 50-mile-per-hour winds. I'll get some images and perhaps a video posted soon.
Well, the satellite Internet is having issues with the big storm clouds rolling across the Beartooth Plateau, so I'll try to post more this evening.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Day 1, June 29: We left Cincinnati, a little later than planned, but had beautiful weather for the entire day. Indiana and Illinois were just as flat as last year, but we were able to see first-hand some of the flood damage across both states, and particularly in Iowa where thousands of people have been forced from their homes and businesses. We ate dinner in Iowa City, home of the U. of Iowa, and the damage was profound. We camped in Rock Creek State Park just north of Kellogg. It was a beautiful park with great camping facilities...I highly recommend it. Remember to ask the rangers about a discount for student groups...
Day 2, June 30: Up and at 'em at 6:00 a.m. and on the road by 7:00. A quick breakfast at McDonald's and on the road again. Another beautiful day for traveling. We bypassed our annual stop at Cabela's and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota in order to make better distance for the day. We ended up at The Badlands National Park and camped in the middle of bison country. We have some great photos of our encounter from the car, but did not get photos from camp on the morning of Day 3 when the bison were within 200 yards of our tents.
Day 3, July 1: Up at 5:00 a.m. for one of the most gorgeous sunrises imaginable. We were supposed to be up at 6, but some of our phones are having problems deciding whether we're in Mountain Time or Central Time. On the road by 6:30 and a stop for breakfast in the world's largest tourist trap, Wall Drug. The food was great, and Lauren, Ian, Mac and Sara all contributed to the revenue of the local knife seller. We made great time and ended up at the Mother's Day Site in Montana by 5:00 p.m., just in time for our first wind/rain/lightning storm of the season. No injuries to our crew, but two tents did receive some moderate damage (sorry Ian and Craig). Repairs were made quickly and Sara started on making our first field-cooked meal of the season, Chicken Parmigiana. Believe it or not, it is possible to cook frozen chicken in the field. Dr. Storrs examined the quarry for any signs of damage or looting, and everything was just as we had left it last summer. After a typical Montana sunset (i.e., beautiful) we all settled down for our first night in the field.
Day 4, July 2: I'm typing to you from the YBRA right now. Lauren, Ian, Craig and I came over to pick up some of our gear from last year (and catch a quick shower) while Dr. Storrs, Mac and Sara headed off to meet with one of the locals who has arranged for us to do some prospecting on some ranches in the area. After I finish typing this up, it's back to the camp and haul gear up to the dig site. I will probably be able to add my next post on Sunday after picking up our first group from the airport. Until then....
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
In the right-hand column, you can find archived posts from past seasons and from the "in-between" times when all of the work in the museum and the Geier Collections and Research Center is taking place. Staff and volunteers will be departing Cincinnati on June 29th, and posts will follow semi-regularly over the next 6 weeks as the team makes the 1600 mile trek to Montana and as they continue to uncover the fossils of juvenile Diplodocus in the "Mother's Day Quarry". We will also be including insights from the amateur paleontologists and students joining us.
But most importantly, you (as the reader) can post your own questions and comments. We'll answer every question as we get a chance, and look forward to hearing from you!
Sunday, June 22, 2008
As of now, we will be leaving Cincinnati at around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 29th (for anyone who is interested, that's my b-day). We should make Grinnell, Iowa on Day 1, so a few of us are really looking forward to some salsa & chips from "Casa Margaritas".
Most everything is packed, including more dry goods than I think we've ever taken out with us. Kroger's had a big sale on Pringles ($.88 a can), and an "unnamed" bulk food club was the source for the rest, including powdered Gatorade, powdered mashed potatoes, canned veggies (sorry, Sara), canned chicken, pasta, tomato sauce. I was adamant that we save some money on food (since $4.00 gasoline appears to be with us throughout the trip), and Dr. Storrs was insistent that we eat healthy...so, buy in bulk was the answer.
We'll be loading everything up starting on Saturday around noon. It will be the first time that some of our new staff and volunteers will have met, but Sara and Mac (assuming he makes it back from Utah in one piece) will hopefully show the leadership skills they have developed over the past several years. The two of them have really helped keep this program moving forward during recent staffing changes.
I will try to post once or twice more before next Sunday, but with six weeks of being in the desert ahead of me, I'm looking forward to several evenings of soaking in the hot tub and spending some time with my wife and our 20 month old son.
Cheers for now...
Monday, June 02, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
After a bottle of dish soap, scrubbing pads and a lot of elbow grease, Sara ended up pulling out a chisel and rock hammer...and we still couldn't get everything clean. So, we have some more steel wool pads and some more "intense" cleaners in hopes of getting it all clean.
On a more positive note, we will be having a special guest at camp for the first two full weeks...a professional camp cook! Not that we can't fend for ourselves (Sara has learned how to cook chicken parmigiana), but having some well-cooked meals will be a nice step up for those of us on site. For the "Field School" participants coming in from around the country (and Europe), you will also get to join us one night for a field-cooked meal...although it probably still won't compare to the wonderful meals that you will be enjoying at the YBRA camp, lovingly prepared by Jeanette...the camp "mom" who cooks for more than 100 people during peak weeks.
Just 4-1/2 weeks until departure...
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Six weeks left.
Monday, May 05, 2008
We all know that kids love dinosaurs. For some, it is a phase--for others, it becomes a calling. Paleontology, as I have said many times on this blog and elsewhere, is a gateway science. Whether it is something as formal as the scientific method or as simple as getting their hands dirty digging in a mock dig site, we (as educators) should try to hook the kids while they are naturally interested. An earlier post referenced the new confirmed DNA link between birds and dinosaurs. While a 3rd grader may not understand how DNA works, they CAN look at a T.rex foot and recognize the similarities with birds sitting on the phone wires while they walked into school that morning, or imagine a Thanksgiving turkey that would barely fit inside a school bus.
If the hits on this blog (50 states and 32 countries) and attendance at Dinosaur Field School (guests from across the country and now Finland and the UK) are any indication, the paleontology gateway has remained open for many of you. Post a comment to let us (and the readers) know why you are so fascinated in paleontology and show the school groups who visit us why THEY should keep paleontology in their curriculum.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Scientists have put more meat on the theory that dinosaurs' closest living relatives are modern-day birds.
Molecular analysis, or genetic sequencing, of a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex protein from the dinosaur's femur confirms that T. rex shares a common ancestry with chickens, ostriches, and to a lesser extent, alligators.
The dinosaur protein was wrested from a fossil T. rex femur discovered in 2003 by paleontologist John Horner of the Museum of the Rockies; the bone was found in a fossil-rich stretch of land in Wyoming and Montana.
The new research results, published this week in the journal Science, represent the first use of molecular data to place a non-avian dinosaur in a phylogenetic tree, a "tree of life," that traces the evolution of species.
"These results match predictions made from skeletal anatomy, providing the first molecular evidence for the evolutionary relationships of a non-avian dinosaur," says Science paper co-author Chris Organ, a researcher at Harvard University. "Even though we only had six peptides--just 89 amino acids--from T. rex, we were able to establish these relationships."Continued on the NSF website.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
The features of the site include latest publications, updates from the lab and collection inventories. Designed by Curator of Zoology Herman Mays, the attractive, easy-to-navigate site truly makes the collections and research of Cincinnati Museum Center, and its off-site Geier Center, much more accessible.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
This year's Dinosaur Field School is shaping up to be one of our most exciting ever. What really makes it so amazing for those of us on staff is the diversity of people who choose to spend a week (or more) of their summer with us. In any given year we can see classroom teachers, engineers, musicians, stay-at-home moms, and anyone from 13 years old to 85 years old (and older). This year we have at least two participants from Milwaukee returning for a second time, and two more coming for the first time from Europe (one from the UK and one from Finland).
Some of our field staff (museum staff and volunteers) will be working on a new discovery made last year in the Beartooth Mountains. Not a dinosaur this time, but an ancient fish...currently "swimming" at around 10,000 feet above sea level. The rest of staff will be digging in at the Mother's Day site and working with the participants from Dinosaur Field School.
There are a few other changes this year...we've moved a little earlier in the season (by about 10 days or so). So, we'll actually be on the ground in Montana by around July 2. This opens up a lot of possibilities for us who are driving out, including one of the largest cookouts you've ever seen on July 4. More news on that as we get closer.
But here we are, in mid-April, waiting for a sustained warming trend in Ohio and dreaming about the 130-degree temperatures we can expect in 3 months or so. We're starting inventories for our gear, reordering supplies and chomping at the bit to get on the road again...
In 2007, Timothy Myers and Glenn Storrs published their Taphonomy of the Mother's Day Quarry, Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, South-Central Montana, USA which examines the conditions present at our primary dig site in Montana when the bones of these sub-adult sauropods were deposited some 140-million years ago. This isn't light reading, but for those of you who will be joining us this summer (or who have joined us in the past), it might be of interest.
Monday, January 28, 2008
However, it's not always so uncomfortably hot...sometimes it's uncomfortably cold. As I was adding the code for the trackers to the blog, the temperatures in Red Lodge at the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association camp were hovering at around 5-degrees above zero Fahrenheit. Over in the Bighorn Basin closer to the actual dig site, temperatures were at 4-degrees BELOW zero.
In order to help all of our readers keep track of what conditions are like, we've added some weather trackers in the right column of the main blog page. The top tracker is for Powell, Wyoming...a nearby town located in the Basin. The bottom tracker is from a weather site located on Mt. Maurice at the YBRA. I have also included them here in this post so that you can take a quick look.