Still Catching Up

Lab Note #14
Oct 14, 2015

Field Season - Week 3:

There was still a lot to do heading into our final week of the field season, so it was 'all hands on deck', mostly back at our Johnsonops Hill site. The T. rex bone at Quarry 3 was already out, the jumble of bones at Quarry 1 was also ready to go, so we were down to finishing a couple of new sites we'd found during the season, and to working on the dinosaur at Quarry 2. Quarry 2 . . . . oh, Quarry 2. By now it was clear this was our White Whale.

This dinosaur - which by this point we knew to be a Triceratops - was partially preserved in an iron-rich concretion. This was a good sign because usually bones within these concretions are well preserved, even though it makes them very, very heavy, and therefore difficult to get out of the field. Not only that, though, we quickly found out that the rock above the bones - the rock that we had to break apart and remove by hand - was INSANELY HARD. I've worked in all kinds of rocks, in several parts of the world. I'm not exaggerating when I say this was the hardest sedimentary rock I've ever encountered. I would say it was like concrete, but given all of the cracks in the sidewalk in front of my house, I don't think that's giving enough credit to the rocks entombing these fossils. Throughout the field season, we broke 2 new mattocks (pick-axes), 2 sledge hammers, and multiple steel rock chisels that just snapped like tooth picks. Not only that, but the spot where this bone encased in the hardest rock known to man (ok, maybe that was an exaggeration) was laying, just happened to be near the top of a hill, and on the edge of that hill, sticking out of a nearly vertical slope. If I'm not making myself clear, here, what I'm saying is that this was not the most convenient situation for excavating a skeleton that could be far bigger than a Hummer.

By mid-week, we'd made some progress on that overburden, but it was clear we weren't going to be done this season. So our focus shifted from finding more bones to just figuring out how to safely remove what we'd already exposed. That process ended up being fairly successful - we removed a large portion of the frill (the shield behind the neck) and some facial bones), and those are now in our lab ready to be prepared.

Sliding the Triceratops frill jacket down into the UTV. We thought it would be hard to keep it from rolling down on its own. it ended up being very difficult to PULL down the hill.

Aside from preparing those bones in the lab, our focus now shifts toward how to get the rest of the skeleton out of the ground next season, or possibly the next few seasons. We simply can't go back there with hand tools again - if this skeleton is even reasonably complete it could easily take years to excavate. The plan, then, is to go back next season armed with an electric small (i.e., 'portable') jack hammer, powered by a generator. This of course means money, but that's where we have some good news to report.

A freakishly wet and stormy late spring in that region meant the road approaching the quarries - the one that we had to have repaired - got washed out completely. Fortunately for us, this road also approaches some oil-industry equipment, so the company that owns the leases there decided just to repair the roads themselves, at no cost to us - thank you White Rock Oil! Also at the last minute, our friends at the BLM were able to free up their UTV and operator to help us both unload all of our equipment at the beginning of the season, but also to reload all of that equipment and jackets at the end of the season - thank you BLM! And finally, screw ups in the reservation of our moving truck lead UHaul to give us a HUGE discount for that rental - thank you UHaul! The end result, then, was that some money that you kind folks donated, is still available to purchase that generator and jack hammer. This is another example of how your generous donations are an investment in our program - this new equipment will make the Bighorn Basin Dinosaur Project more efficient and effective in the coming field seasons. Thanks again to all of you!

White Rock Oil repairing the road for us:

Transporting fossil jackets up the hill to the trucks.

More to come soon!

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