What a nice day we had today; the weather was wonderful all day, we got started bright and early and we dug on the specimen at our new site. I may be getting over confident here, but I think it is a triceratops; the classic tri-horned herbivore of the Cretaceous era. They are not uncommon in the geologic formation (Hell Creek) we dig in here at the cattle ranch in Fallon County, Montana. It was just discovered yesterday so this is only the completion of our second day with this specimen. Too early to be making any big pronouncements, but I hope it is a lot of parts from one triceratops. We’re finding many scattered bones and fragments of bone as we dig one piece only to be interrupted by another. This is a really good problem to have! If this dig keeps going and produces many bones then I’ve decided to name the specimen Olivia, in honor of my daughter.
We are wrapping up this field season on Friday, in two days, so not much will happen with this new find this year. We’ve carefully removed a few bones that were found on the “outskirts” of the main pieces. These were found in the typical way, while remove rock and soils away to find the outline of a bone you bump into other bones, and it continues. This is very typical; to find bones in a sort of jumble, crisscrossed over each other, touching each other, basically a mess to have to separate and get into their own field jackets of plaster soaked burlap without harming other bones. As the old expression goes, if it were easy, anyone could do it. Here’s a look at the set of bones we’re seeing so far. Note how hard it is to “see” the bones as they look so much like the rock matrix they are surrounded in.
We also found some other interesting things at the dig today. Came across a lot of “coal” in dark, shiny pieces and some in slabs, several impressions of wood or plants (see photo below) and a couple of theropod teeth – you know, the ones with tiny serrations running along their longitudinal sides making them sharp, cutting devices. Very cool to find evidence of interaction between two animals, I can’t ID the teeth yet but will work on it back in the workshop at home.
Wrapped up working at this site around 6pm to head back to camp for a hot shower and good meal. Been a great second day on this dig and I’m truly excited about what may come from this in the future. Maybe especially so since we closed the Clarence dig site earlier this week, not to be returning there. So it continues. Our plan is to place a “winter cast” of burlap soaked in plaster over the entire area of exposed bones. This won’t be very thick and is meant to be temporary, just to protect and preserve the find until we return next year. After the plaster jacket dries we’ll place a tarp over the whole site and do the hardest thing imaginable- bury the bones with dirt! All done to protect the fossils from weather and from cows walking on them (cattle have zero respect for paleontology). Hard to bury the newly dug up bones but it’s the right thing to do when they must be left in place until next field season. Here’s how we left the site tonight; until we return in the morning.