Monday, 8 August 2011

48 Hours to go in the field.....then the work really starts!

It is coming to the end of this summers field season. Only a few more days in the field, before I fly back to Philadelphia. Several members of the team have already started their way back to their respective corners of the globe, leaving eight of us in the field.

We all toasted an anonymous donor again, known only to me as the 'Leprechaun' from Philadelphia...this kind person provided funds for two full dinners for the field team. Top of the day to you sir/madam, as you have a very grateful and well-fed group of palaeontologists.

Tomorrow we will close the main site, in so far that we will hoover-up any surface bone and remove any sign of our being in this beautiful wilderness. Whilst we love to dig, scarpe and excavate...we also like to leave as small an environmental footprint as possible.

We have bagged a decent part of a Torosaurus skull, several hadrosaur post-cranial elements (from a very large beastie), not to mention several bones from the infamous T. rex. To top it all, the micro-vertebrate finds have provided us with evidence for many other non-dinosaurian organisms that thrived in the shadow of the mightiest of all beloved dinosaurs. Teeth of several species hail their presence, but accompanying bones still allude us....for the time being.

The fossils plants, insects and amber will hopefully yield information on the late Cretaceous Hell Creek environment, but this will take many months of sifting through samples accompanied by many experiments. Some of the samples will undoubtedly end-up under the quantitative x-ray gaze of the Stanford synchrotron.

The LiDAR survey scans will soon be aligned and linked, so we can revisit our site in a virtual environment, placing samples we have collected within a 3D framework. The initial previews of our 3D site survey are looking good...but again, more time must be spent on this data. The digital outcrop models will be updated every year to map changes to the site and the relative position of bones as we uncover them.

The samples collected from the sedimentary succession below, within and above our hadrosaur site will be diced and sliced and made into polished thin-sections of rock at the University of Manchester. These will then be analysed at both at the University of Manchester and at the Stanford Synchrotron (at SSRL).

The tridactyl Hell Creek footprint(s) will need describing, but not given a name. I baulk at naming tracks of dinosaurs...unless the hapless maker of the track is found literally dead in its tracks (a termination of my favourite terms). We also now seem to have at least one more track horizon and at least two much work here.

All-in-all, fieldwork is great fun, but the real work starts when your sifting through and interpreting the vast piles of data and samples collected in a field season. It will be this data that forms the backbone of next years field season and many years research. This years finds allow us time to construct preliminary hypotheses that we can then test and validate using corroborating data from other studies and sites relavent to our own. It also allows us to strategically plan next years BIG excavation. Our three weeks in the field this summer, might translate into 2 months next year. The future logistical and financial nightmare is already yielding a few sleepless nights.

Before I close the curtain on this years field season....our team still has another 48 hours to nail another spectacular find. As I recall from last year...our best finds were made in the last 48 hours!

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