Fish Thyme (Time?)

I’ve been having some fun in the workshop the last month or so playing with and learning about how in the world to prepare and expose fossil fish from the Green River Formation of Wyoming. I bought five small samples of the most common fish found in this formation that are in small, flat slabs of limestone. The fish (and other seas animals) are found smashed flat in thin layers of stone that was fine sediment at the bottom of a huge inland lake. The samples I picked up at the Tucson Fossil Show last month are from the layer referred to as the “sandwich layer” and are the most common two types of fish they find – Knightia alta and Diplomystus dentatus.

Here’s a photo of the five plates I picked up with light pencil marks over the line of vertebrae along the spines of each. That gives beginners like me a reference mark of where to start picking away at the overlaying rock layer. If you hold one of these slabs up to the sunlight and move it around you can clearly detect the “bumps” in the surface of the stone that are the telltale sign that something is hidden underneath.

Maybe there’s a fish fossil in each of these five thin slabs of limestone?

With much trial and even more error I have been using a variety of tools and techniques to try to unlock these thin, fragile fossils from the overlaying limestone layers. It’s quite a trick. One picks or pries at the surface stone around the line of vertebrae trying our best to gently prod the stone up and off without damaging the paper thin layer of bones and flesh imprint left on the rock. It’s a trick I have absolutely not mastered (yet). Hence why I’m working with the most common, least expensive and least rare of this type fossil. And I’ve been having fun. Tiny picks, needles, small air scribe tools some, tooth brushes, air blowers, and our sand blasting cabinet (very carefully!) have all been tried. Just a hair too much pressure with a tool or too straight down at the piece and whoops, I damage it or loose a tiny bit of the fossil impression or bone.

Here are a few photos of two Knightia alta fish I’ve completed. Not great, but I’m having fun learning and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway.

You can see where I blew away the faint dark impression of fish bone and flesh on top and to the rear of this specimen. It’s hard! (And what’s that above his/her head? Might be a poop from another fish.)

Here’s the second one I prepared and cleaned up –

Did a little better on this one with less loss of bone material.

And a few photos of the third one I’m working on now. A couple in progress so you can see the development from nothing to something! I think this specimen is the Diplomystus dentatus variety. Also very common and a slightly larger fish with a slightly different fin pattern than the Knightia.

Following the pencil line which highlights the raised backbone of the fish.
Now the specimen is becoming more visible. The slab of stone is in reversed position from the first photo above. It’s coming around nicely and looks bigger than the first two.

And here’s the almost fully prepared piece. Complete with other things about; see the trail of poopoo(?) above its head. There are also some small items that showed on the obverse side that I went ahead and exposed for the practice. They are a full half an inch of stone below the surface where our fish friend came to rest – meaning these small deposits are from a very different date, older than our fish.

Almost done, but still trying to remove some stone between the visible ribs.
On the back of the same fish plate I saw two distinct bumps and both are evidence of … something?

And lastly, here’s the fully prepared specimen of Diplomystus – my first one! And see that I discovered a second fish as I cleaned around the mouth parts. Saw some more black bits so I cleaned more. Look what I found – a 2nd fish that was either being chased by the first OR (more likely) was caught up in the same event that killed the 1st one and they just settled on the bottom of the lake at the same time. Being chased and almost eaten by the 1st fish is a more exciting story, for sure!

Two fish, one small piece of limestone. I didn’t know the 2nd little fish was there until I did!

Rib update (that’s an odd title?)

Just thought I’d show the end result of the neat hadrosaur rib my friend Jeff found a coupe of years ago on a dig with me out in Montana. Jeff came by the fossil workshop a couple of times to work on his find that we we not sure what it was. It was in a lot, A Lot, of pieces. I do like a puzzle (made of bones or otherwise) and was glad to advise a little and help a little to figure out what it was and how to put it back together. Jeff did a good job on the collection of it by capturing it in its original position as he found it and then gathering all the tiny bone scrap found all around the piece. Low and behold it turned out to be a delicate, 22 inch long rib that remarkably went back together with only a few holes where bone was missing.

After the first day, Jeff had put this much together from 10-12 (?) pieces; clearly a rib head.

He and I worked on it another day and found that many pieces did seem to go together. It was turning out to be a good piece – in fact good enough that I cursed him for finding it instead of me!

The rib head is to the left and we’re stringing together quite a bit of the small shards of bone. Maybe it will all go back together?

And after I played with the tiniest pieces left over it really seemed to come into shape…

Look at all those small pieces still laying about – possibly fit back in place?

Here’s the end result with some restoration added by mixing up some epoxy putty and shaping it into some of the voids left over. Serves two purposes – helps hold whole thing together and fills gaps so the specimen appears more whole.

Finished piece all glued together
And here after epoxy added to largest gaps. Ready for display at Jeff’s home. Museums typically paint over restoration efforts (the epoxy) to help the repairs disappear into the specimen.

Now you see how my friends treat me out in the field on digs – they swarm in and find good finds! Good job Jeff.

Way back on January 10….

I did a fun dino talk-presentation and read a children’s book to an eager group of local children at a bookstore on our downtown square here in Martinsville, called Fables & Fairy Tales ( I’ve spoken and read there before to the delight of some and chagrin of others! As usual I had a fun time sharing with smart, young folks who wanted to hear about and talk about fossil dinosaurs!

I read a fun book aloud to the group that featured plastic toy dinos that were running rampant over the whole school; basically getting into one mess after another while all the while trying to avoid the teacher’s “drawer of no return” where toys and other oddities end up when kids won’t stop playing with them and the teacher is at witt’s end. Leave it say that this group of dinos were completely irrepressible and would not stop the party, no matter what. Fun.

What a great photo showing the rapt attention of this adorable young lady.

I showed a few fossil samples to the group and handed around a few things so they could check them out up close. I had a few photos up on a TV screen from the 2023 field work season where we dug on a triceratops and I had a few bones from that dig to show. The best part of the evening was clearly the free fragment of real dinosaur fossil bones I had for each child to look through and select one for themselves. A big hit as usual. I purposely gather scrap bone pieces where something has eroded out and shattered so I have souvenirs like this to give away. No science is being harmed, and most kids (and adults) like possessing a real dino fossil. I sure enjoy these types of events and am glad to do them.

Tucson Fossil Show

I attended a few days around the opening of this huge international fossil, gem & mineral show in Tucson, Arizona over the past few days that takes place annually at the end of January and runs for 2 or 3 weeks. It’s huge, it’s massive, it takes place in many, many different venues all around town. It’s in huge tents, takes over many whole hotels with all the rooms used as display areas for different vendors, the convention center, a fancy hotel out in the desert that specializes in hosting only exclusive, high end gems (think rubies, emeralds and diamonds). There are dinosaur fossils, mammal fossils, shark teeth, creepy crawly things like trilobites and crinoid plates, there are exotic, fanciful shelled animal fossils full of vibrant mineralized color, fishes from all over the world, and gems and crystals and more rocks and more minerals and more….

It sure is simply overwhelming. So I go and focus on checking out the fossil selections, mostly to just see what’s new and what people are finding and to get to meet and mix a little with collectors and paleontologists who are deep into this fossil world. I’ve not purchased much, I so want to find items myself and then do the preparation and clean up. I did buy a few small, flat slabs of limestone from the Green River Formation in Wyoming from a dealer who had left them raw, unprepared just for people like me! They were very inexpensive and are one or two of the most common fish found in this special “fossil lake” near Kemmerer, Wyoming. I’ve not yet made the opportunity to go there to learn how they quarry these flat, thin slabs of stone out of the ground. I know it’s a significantly different way of working than what I normally do when digging on and removing dinosaur bones. The fish and other marine animals found in this formation are all smashed flat during fossilization so they are prepared and presented on thin slabs of stone and are 2D compared to whole bones. I look forward to seeing how they prep out and glad they are common species so any mistakes I make will be chalked up to the learning curve needed to figure out the methods to prepare them.

The Green River Formation fossil fish I picked up are shown here with a pencil mark highlighting where the row of vertebrae are on each piece. And a handful of red rocks given to me by a friend from Germany. Each is holding a marine fossil like the one that Martin already cleaned up.

Here are a few images from the show venues I toured. Quite a variety of different things for sale everywhere.

Some fancy and rare petrified wood with clear evidence of copper related minerals that formed it (the blues and greens from copper and related minerals).
One of many huge tent cities that appear for the annual show, filled with people and stuff.
I focused on booths and particular show areas know for fossil displays.
Minerals and jewelry quality gemstones are a huge draw to the show as well as fossil stuff.
Huge “plate” of fossil crinoid animals. Like modern sea corals, crinoids were animals, not plants. here’s a large stone record of a bunch of them all together.
More fossils. This looks like a large, scary brontothere/titanothere mammal fossil skull.
Dunkleosteus fossil fish from pre-dinosaur times! Along with some other fantastic fossil plates on the walls.
Blue rock anyone? Overwhelming for sure.

Oh, and did I mention, I got to experience mostly clear blue skies and sunshine here in Arizona this past weekend? It was a nice break from the grey and dull weather at home in Indiana in January. Wonderful to be here in the high 60’s to high 70 degree days!

Misc nonsense…

A friend has come by the shop a couple of times in the past few weeks to work together on a fossil rib he found when we were out prospecting a couple of years ago in Montana. It had been sitting in the fossil workshop just waiting for Jeff to come by and work more on his preparation skill set. I didn’t remember the piece and wasn’t sure what it was; my best guess was a fragmented (broken up) rib. After a day of cleaning work with hand tools, an air scribe tool and some time in the micro blaster (mini sand blaster cabinet) the puzzle started to form. It sure is a rib and it appeared that Jeff did a good job collecting it as he put the rib head together from a series of bits and pieces. Looks good and we agreed to meet up again to work on the balance of all the shards of bone that he collected with it. Who knows?, maybe it all will fit together into an almost complete rib bone?

No doubts, it’s the “head” of a dinosaur rib bone. Likely a hadrosaur species.

I’ll get another photo of the balance of the fossil bone and add it in here later. You’ll see quite a puzzle that’s being fitted back together.

This puzzle almost completely put back together.

I also got fired up and worked on some of Clarence the hadrosaur’s vertebrae that had been started some time ago and just sitting around on the work bench gathering dust and being totally ignored! Good to get back to something that had been set aside for a good while. I had fun working on it and wondered why I ever left it sitting there. And I know why – because working hour after hour on the same piece gets tiring and I get the urge to move on to something else, often something smaller that I can see finished results much sooner. Patience is key and it’s good to set something aside before mistakes start happening because of some monotony setting in but I need a little more discipline to get back to things after a brief pause.

The neural spine was cleaned up some time ago but the base (the centrum) of this vertebra was ignored. Photo to follow soon will show the finished product.
Here it is with clean up and a little bit of restoration. One of the two transverse processes is missing and the centrum at the bottom is normally a round shape but the bottom of it was worn away.

This hadrosaur specimen was dug over the last couple of trips out west and has @100 of its bones recovered and back in the shop. I’ll add a photo soon showing this completed piece once it’s fully prepared.

I’ve also been completing the final preparation on a large turtle specimen found near Clarence’s bones. I’ll also add a photo here shortly to show the final work. It’s about 16” x 16” with both most of the top and the whole bottom shell still intact. I’ve just recently removed most all the sandstone matrix that was stuck in place inside the cavity of the two shells so now it’s showing off the rib cage and vertebrae that attach to the top shell (the carapace). Photo to follow soon!

Preparation almost complete on this big turtle found in & amongst Clarence the hadrosaur’s bones. Making the turtle the same age; approx 66 million years old.
Here’s a shot of the spinal column running along the inside of the shell.

Also just last week I removed the Christmas attire that Sparky the Sinclair dino mounted outside the shop had on. Will have to give some thought, or just listen closely, to see what Sparky wants to wear next?

Fun Dino Talk – 12/15/23

I traveled up to Hamilton SouthEastern High School a week ago to chat with a newly formed Fossil Club. I took some samples of the triceratops we found a year ago and excavated this year from a site in SE Montana. The group was sure attentive and had questions and seemed to really enjoy the short talk and Q&A we had together. I think several of them would consider a future visit to a dig site with SIPI! Here’s a photo from their geology classroom where we got together to talk with their great teacher and advisor for their new club, Mrs. C.

Great turn out for a high school fossil club. Brought a scale map of the fossil bones of Olivia the triceratops, book of photos from the dig, field notebook and paper copy of the database of our collection to share with the group (along with fully prepared bones as well as some still in plaster field jackets).

Thanks to senior student Matthew for helping to organize and lead this new club and for inviting me to share.

Sparks’s ready for the holiday

All dressed up

Got home from a fun trip to a California celebrating Thanksgiving with our daughter and her husband there and set right into helping Sparky the dinosaur get ready for the Christmas holidays. We’ll see how his decorations hold up with winter weather and rain on the way, and so far, so good.

Workshop tour

We had a very fun home school group tour last Friday. There were “kids” of all ages that seemed to really enjoy the tour. I think some of the adults had as good a time as the kids. We learned all about fossils and how we find them, the tools and processes we use to clean and prepare fossils and checked out all the things still in field jackets waiting to be brought to the bench and different pretty things in the show room.

Here are some photos from the day –

Looking over items in plaster & burlap field jackets that are yet to be worked on
Checking out some of the tools we use to clean fossils
Young paleontologists engrossed in the micro fossil samples
One of the older “kids” checking things out
We were checking out a couple of fossils this guy brought with him from his collection.

Jurassic Park is real?!?

While out exploring I stumbled upon something one thought existed only in movies. I came up to this 20’ tall, or taller, electrified fence at the edge of some fantastic limestone cliffs and thick, dense jungle. It got very quiet.

Was something being kept out or I kept in?

Small chips and clucking sounds would occasionally break the dull, hot silence. I saw nothing but “felt” the it’s presence. Elizabeth and I ran back toward the beach where we thought we had come from to find a way out. I went one direction and the last I saw Elizabeth she was exploring the small opening you may notice in the rock formation erupting out of the water below. I can only assume she passed through some portal when she crawled forward into that small gap?

The last time Elizabeth was seen

The noise and my sense of the presence of something bigger than me, bolder, more attuned to the earth’s hold on its ultimate destiny, brought my attention into sharp focus. Hiking back uphill from the small beachhead I heard it. Shaking of limbs, leaves twirling in the wind as they floated away from their holds on trees. My heart beat loudly in my chest, so loud I feared it could find me.

They came from here!

The tree limbs parted and a small quadrant of furry soldiers appeared around me, above me, behind me. I felt their small hands as they drug me unwillingly toward their jungle lair. These may be the last photos I will ever have taken…

An advance guard – young but aggressive!
One of their generals
Contemplative yes, ruthless absolutely!
The cruelty could not be satisfactorily described

What could I do but go along with their evil agenda of which I understood nothing, their language, their gestures, their smells, nothing I had ever encountered before!

Then, in my lowest moment, all was made clear to me. Something snapped and I felt a heavy burden around my swollen left ankle – yes, it was a metal shackle with corresponding metal link chain snaking off into the thick jungle understory growth. The heat, the thick humid air virtually choking all the breath out of me. In shallow gasps I tried to fill my lungs and to right myself but just then burst out of jungle from behind that hideous electrified wall the thing. The thing I can not drag myself to mention. That thing from some past land, some past time (?), intent on what?!

Those claws, the evil “grin,” the horrid row of razor sharp spikes down its head and neck

I screamed the scream of someone who shall not be saved. Nothing I did made any difference in its demeanour. It stalked and harassed me knowing I was restrained and could not defend myself. It must have been 40 feet long and stood 25’ tall on its rear legs.

It is real, it did happen. I may be no more, yet the dinosaurs clearly live on.

Tour Time

We had a few tours in the last couple of weeks. The two middle school science teachers who invited me to come present then picked a handful of their students to come visit the workshop. We had a good visit in person in the shop, many tried their hand at lifting up a large field jacketed shoulder blade (scapula) from Olivia the triceratops, more good questions were explored and everyone got a small sample piece of real dinosaur bone to take home.

Captive audience for Steve; the kind he likes best!
Group shot of gang from Wooden Middle School and a few friends from the YMCA after school program at the shop
I love her expression in this photo; she looks so very interested
Talkin’ bones

Two of our many great teachers here in the Martinsville School system getting a selfie with Sparky outside the workshop.

Here are a few shots from the day presenting in their classrooms at Wooden Middle where we tried to fill in some information about the geologic time scale and where different fossils fit in …

Demonstrating some high level concept for sure (Not!)
Brought some sample fossils to talk about and brought on the foolishness, for sure!
“Yes, you’re holding a real, 66 million year old dinosaur bone.”

We also had a tour of the workshop (and our gardens areas at home) by a group of nurses (and their tag-a-longs) that Steve works with/for at his volunteer role at Bloomington Hospital. Fun group who toured the shop and were not shy when asked “Who wants to work on cleaning up some real fossils?” Several jumped right in and worked on a dinosaur vertebra from Clarence the hadrosaur and on some marine shell fossils. Everyone got to choose a sample piece of real dino bone to take home with them and we all went out for a fun dinner after at our local Mexican restaurant in downtown Martinsville.

Kathy and I talking about how to clean/prepare a fossil
She got right into it with no fear
Rachel working away on separating marine fossils from surrounding rock matrix.
Tonya and Kellie working on a fossil while Tina is up to something sneaky?
The whole crew
Garden tours after dino shop tour
Most joined up after for a meal downtown.
Steve & Elizabeth being a bit foolish

And lastly, in honor of October’s arrival and Halloween coming up, Sparky decided to get in the spirit – crossed up two (?) scary movies; Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre? But don’t cross him!