August 1, 2011

Wherein Our Gentle Hero Unearths a Dinosaur

Posted in Look tagged , , , at 2:52 am by onetinyacorn

Oh, yeah. I got to help dig up a Tyrannosaurus Rex over the July 4th weekend.

I found out about this amazing opportunity from a good friend of a good friend. He’s a paleontologist who just happened upon some vertebrae bones from a T Rex poking above ground while surveying the land (the ranch where this dino met his doom allows the paleontologist to scour the area, looking for such things). A team of scientists and volunteers was assembled, and we made our way out into the middle of nowhere. This ranch was at the end of an hour-long drive down dirt trails with ruts worn into the earth from the passage of vehicles. We arrived at night, after being held up by an owl that stopped in front of our car for a few minutes, stared at us, and took flight again with an impressive wingspan. The dead silence, incredible view of the stars, and scent of sage in the cool breeze that met us were a welcome retreat. I stayed up really late watching the lightening flash off in the distance at regular intervals, too far away to ever reach us.

Turns out this is a Thing that people can do—some of the women at the dig site had met in the Gobi desert on a different dig. They’ve been traveling around for years, going from site to site as volunteers. Most had backgrounds in science, although we were next to another archivist. She interviewed us for an oral history project, so look forward to hearing my caffiene-less ramblings sometime in the future (yep, she’s digitizing everything).

All of that dirt was removed by hand. They estimate that 200 tons were removed by the time the dig was finished.

The site was partitioned into squares approximately 2 feet x 2 feet. I was given an awl with which to dig through my designated square of mudrock (hard stuff, that), and a tutorial on what it sounds like when you hit a bone.

I found…a seed. But it was a prehistoric seed! Still cool. I was in a corner with lots of plants—the aforementioned archivist kept finding great examples of palm fronds and petrified plant stems.

The woman on the other side of me found part of a tendon. Tiny thing—like a slightly flattened drinking straw, with a porous texture inside. We were searching for the skull and tail of the TRex. Where could they possibly have gone, you ask? I was wondering that too. Well, the torso was at the top of a slope, and the geologist explained that there was water flowing nearby. So the skull might have been washed away over time. The scientists on the team were plastering the torso of the TRex, and on one nerve-wracking afternoon, they used heavy machinery to flip it over. They are hoping to find skin impressions, and will find a less weathered side of the skeleton.

Here’s what the plastering process looked like:

While at the site, they found another pile of dinosaur bones. Finding the TRex was a huge deal—only the 7th one found in Wyoming in 125 years. Paleontologists are apparently a little more blasé about triceratops—their bones are found all over here. They pointed out the vascular system which was revealed in the carved-out conduits of the bones. Note the slightly elongated spongy texture of the bone—rocks don’t have those.

After 9 hours or so of digging—with plenty of breaks—it was time to call it quits. Chef Jodie provided some delicious food, and we hung out as daylight receded and fatigue caught up with us.

For more info, check out the Official Blog of the dig: http://www.tatetrex.com/blog/

If you get the chance to do something like this, I heartily recommend it! I met lots of nice people, and learned a ton in just the short time that I participated. I look forward to doing this sort of thing again.

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1 Comment »

  1. lizeckel said,

    i am totally jealous and impressed!
    you found a seed?
    well it is certainly older than anything i’ve ever touched.
    xoxo


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