Monday, August 08, 2011

Media Release Week!

This week has been a great one so far! Monday was very exciting as we had our media release hit the news. Tuesday was super busy as the phones were ringing off the hook and everyone was busy taking pictures and videos. We have been digging at the site where the large Xiphactinus and mosasaur remains were discovered last year. The skull of the Xiphactinus, a giant, predatory fish, was excavated successfully in 2010 and is currently on display. The mosasaur skull was also excavated excavated in 2010, but is still currently being prepared in the fossil lab. We are hoping this field season to uncover the rest of the mosasaur and fish skeletons, but have had to stop excavation. Of course, we have been stopped in the best possible way. We keep finding more fossils! We have found another mosasaur (a different one as it is in a different layer), a squid, some bird remains and other unidentifiable fossils that we are still researching! So, we’re not upset about the delay! Above the mosasaur that we are hoping to uncover, we have been finding a microfossil layer that has an abundance of tiny fish vertebrae and teeth. Those are interesting to dig up!

I had one tour on Tuesday that went very well, but the rest of my week was really fun as I designed and worked on some exhibits with the curator. The new Xiphactinus display is finally complete, so you should come on down to see it! Our other exhibits are coming along and soon we should have about 3 new ones.

Matt and Lisa had a fun tour on Friday with a great group. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot outside and they managed to dig all afternoon!

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Discoveries!

Xiphactinus Jaw
Monday, Anita and Joey had some very exciting finds: a Hesperornis femur (upper leg bone) and a Xiphactinus jaw.  Hesperornis regalis was a flightless marine bird from the Western Interior Seaway that was about 3 to 5 feet tall. They were somewhat like modern day penguins in that while they could not fly, and modern day loons in that they dove for fish. Unlike modern penguins, however, this Cretaceous bird had teeth!  Xiphactinus audax was a large carnivorous fish
Hesperornis Femur
 about 15 to 18 feet long. It is also called the bulldog fish, occasionally,  because of its resemblance to the canine. They were such great finds that on Tuesday, we decided to field jacket them.

Teaching us to field
After a dig tour on Tuesday, Lisa and I headed down to our research site where Joey, Anita and one of our volunteers, Tanya, were preparing to field jacket the fish jaw. They dug a small moat around the fossil, surrounding it with a buffer of shale. To protect the fossil we gathered mud from a nearby pond (dried up at this point), and packed it over the fossil as a protective layer. The next step was very amusing as we had to relive our kindergarten days and start playing with plaster! I was
Digging a trench under
the fossil
 the lucky one who got to mix the plaster: which was slightly stressful as you had to mix it to the right consistency and then hurriedly run strips of burlap through it before it hardened too much. Tanya and Lisa would then wrap the plaster-covered strips around the fossil, mud and shale so that there were no air pockets or sharp edges. It was a quick process as the plaster started to dry almost immediately. Next, after the plaster dried, we dug under the fossil so that it was on a type of pedestal. When there was enough room, four of us flipped the fossil and its matrix over so we could plaster the bottom. It was a delicate process as we didn’t want the fossil and shale to all fall out. Our first field jacket was a success as it made it back to the lab in one piece!  

Our finished product!

Our other research site has been turning up many interesting fossils. So far, it is mostly some fish and mosasaur vertebrae. I found a fossil that was half covered by a wall of overburden (extra shale that we always have to remove) and I was excited as to how far it might go under that extra layer. It turns out, it didn’t go very far at all, but there was another rib fragment right beside it. So, it was still exciting! My current dig spot has been consistently turning up smaller fragments and little fish fossils. We mapped our fossils: an interesting experience! Basically we had to set up a grid that was in line with our compass. We then had our artist, Lisa; draw every fossil that she could see within the grid on a grid map. This helps palaeontologists when they remove the fossils from the ground so they can remember where exactly the fossil was. 
The grid for mapping

Some palaeontologists like to study the area where the fossils were found: the taphonomy (studying the process of death to discovery) and maybe even how ocean currents and predation occurred. It’s very interesting!

Adventures in the Pembina

Lisa had her very first ½ day tour on Saturday and her groups had a great time digging around and finding minerals.

Monday was a relaxing day as Matt and Lisa went to one of our other properties. They found lots of fossils, including: a Hesperornis distal femur (leg bone), several fish jaw fragments with teeth in them, some fish vertebrae and a possible mosasaur caudal vertebra (tail bone). It was an exciting day for those two as they explored the Millwood shale and made their discoveries.

It was such a great site, actually, that Matt took his 2 day program  there on Tuesday. It was a father and son who went on this tour and they were the proud finders of many of the fish jaws and the fish vertebrae. The next day they changed up their sites and visited some other areas. Again, they had a great time digging and they even visited some of us who were at a research site. After that they experienced another side to palaeontology and headed to the lab to make molds and casts; an integral part of palaeontological replicas like Bruce!

Wednesday, we all spent the whole day exploring the Pembina Provincial Park. We decided to do some hiking and something different from just sitting down and digging. We hiked over a bunch of trails, were eaten alive by mosquitos, looked at really cool rocks and beautiful flowers and just generally had a great time talking about geology and the great sights in the park. We found some awesome little streams that were filled with nice, icy water that helped cool us off after the long hikes and we found some neat outcrops of rock to look at.

My first 1 day program occurred on Friday. I had 2 groups combined into 1 and they were so much fun. We headed out to one of our larger sites after lunch and settled down to dig. It wasn’t too long and one of the young girls started finding some fossils and concretions right away. Everyone was very patient and they were excited when they started finding jarosite and iron concretions. It was a great day.


This week was all about changing over from school tours to ½ days and 1 and 2 day tours.
Lisa led a school dig tour on Monday. They had lots of fun digging in the shale and enjoying the day. The kids were patient diggers and great at excavation!

Tuesday was my first ½ day dig tour. The group was awesome and we joked a lot about how much jarosite we were finding and that they could open up their own shop with how many Pembina diamonds they collected. They managed to take some of their favorite minerals with them. We decided, then, to hike over to the lookout point and found that the path to the lookout point was completely flooded over and we could only have reached it by swimming across. Still, they were absolute troopers; they made the best of it and we had a lot of fun.

Wednesday was another ½ day tour and this time there was only one gentlemen and his son. They were a delight to give a tour to as they asked many interesting and thoughtful questions. They were both great amateur geologists and knew many of the minerals before I even had to tell them. They even had their own rock shop with many interesting minerals and rocks. The son was a fossil magnet as he had found many other fossils during other digs and this day was no different. I wasn’t having any luck until he came over to dig with me and suddenly we were finding fossils left, right and center. We found some fish scales on the shale, a fish vertebra, a possible end of a phalange(finger bone) and a possible tooth. The son was a very experienced digger, already on his way to becoming a great palaeontologist! He brought his own rock hammers and dug for bentonite for his collection.

Thursday we had another very special group who came out for the entire day. The Royal Astronomical Society was a group gathered from all parts of Canada. This day was one of the hottest and muggiest, but many of the group members were absolute troopers and they stayed out the whole time, digging and sweating it out. A couple fish vertebrae were found and some miscellaneous ribs also.
Our tours have been going great so far and we hope they continue to be as fun as they are! We’re starting to change over from school groups to family groups. We’re excited for the changeover and invite you all to come on out and join us on a grand fossil adventure!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Exploring Exposures

Squid Pen (Gladius)
Monday was a calm day as Lisa had the only tour; an indoor museum tour that went really well. I headed out to one of our research sites with Joey and we spent the entire day digging up fossils in the Gammon. I found many little teeth and fish vertebra that were well preserved. Joey was busy trying to excavate a fossil that he and Anita had found the day before. They found a squid pen in the lower Gammon rock layer, closer to the Boyne rocks than any other fossil we have in our collection. It was very delicate and difficult to remove from its matrix.

Prospecting for fossils
 Tuesday was a busy day as Matt and I had a dig tour, but the forecast was for rain. For that reason we decided to go to the dig site first and then return to the museum afterwards so we would stay dry. We had a large group that were excited to be out and digging and they found several fossils. It was very exciting!

Great find of the day!
Thursday was another dig tour. It was an older class and Lisa and I had a blast with them as we went to one of our sites that we don’t normally visit. It was a very hot day and the fossils were not in great abundance. Then, all of a sudden, one young lady found a fish vertebra (possibly from a Cimolichthys). No more fossils were found after that, but the class still had a great time. After the tour, Joey, Lisa and I travelled to a couple different sites again, examining exposures and different outcrops. Unfortunately we didn’t have any luck in the fossil department, but we had a great time finding the shale! One of the exposures that we found was a new one, along an old railway track that is no longer in use. The Boyne shale was exposed in great layers alongside a little ditch. Climbing over to the strata was interesting and while we didn’t find any shark teeth, we found plenty of hungry mosquitos who decided we were the best thing since chocolate cake. Needless to say, we were swatting our arms and legs more than necessary and that may have contributed to no shark teeth being found.

Shale exposure
The next day was almost a repeat of the day before. Lisa and I had another older class dig tour full of great kids who made it a fun day. The class had fun digging up bentonite and collecting the Pembina Diamonds. This time after the tour, Lisa and I headed to one of our research sites and spent the rest of the day picking around in the lower Gammon (another shale member). It wasn’t long before we found some great stuff. Lisa was finding herself digging into deep layers of selenite crystals whereas I found several fish teeth and vertebra. Most were small and poorly preserved, but there were several that were larger and perfectly preserved. I was excited!

Just Another Day in the Sun...

This week was, unfortunately, a rainy week and most of our dig tours transformed into all-day museum tours. Still, we had a lot of fun playing games such as Dino Hunt and Dino Jeopardy. All of the kids were great sports and we even brought out our dig boxes from the back so that they could have some experience digging.

Matt's 1/2 day tour
 Matt had a half-day fossil adventure tour with a great family from Winnipeg. They found a Squalicorax (shark) tooth and a tibiotarsus (leg bone) from a bird, Hesperornis sp. Both were excellent finds despite the poor preservation and the group was excited to have the chance to find them.
Boyne/Pembina contact

    One of the days it didn’t rain, Lisa, Joey and I traveled out to about 7 different dig sites just to examine exposures and check out our sites. We hiked for a very long time and managed to get millions of mosquito bites. We went to the site where Bruce was found and another site where the Boyne member and the Pembina Shale contact was exposed (rock stuff). One of the sites had a large gulley where there was some wonderful strata (rock layers) exposed. Joey wanted a small strata  column from the middle of the gulley down to the little creek floor so I managed to climb up the ditch side and dig one down. Mostly I made the column  from sliding down the slippery shale, but it worked and it was an exciting adventure. While working on one of the exposures we did find a bone. It didn’t seem to be a fossil and so we didn’t collect it, but it was a very old bone from a rather large animal, possibly a cow or even a bison.
Showing off their fossil!
Miscellaneous Vertebra

Matt also had a dig tour this week that produced several fossils. Three young students in particular found some great fossils. One was fully exposed while one young lady started  working on uncovering her fossil (possibly a rib). Everyone had fun digging around in the dirt and soaking up the sun rays.

Uncovering her fossil!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mishaps in the Millwood

Monday was Lisa’s first field dig of the week. It was a warm and beautiful day with just enough wind to make it refreshing. A young group of girls found 3 fossils while another group of girls found 2. Unfortunately they were only fragments and therefore unidentifiable, but it was cool nevertheless. The boys were more interested in surveying the area for their finds. They had fun; it was a great day.
This group found tons of stuff!
Wednesday Matt and I had a great tour. We spent the morning in the museum and then popped out to the field in the afternoon after a relaxing lunch in the park. It was a great day, slightly windy, but still warm. We weren’t there more than half an hour and fossils started popping up like daisies! Matt and I were busily running around like gophers confirming fossils, snapping pictures, writing notes and taking names. Our students were great palaeontologists: one group found approximately 7 fossils in one little area and were still making discoveries as we left the site. Needless to say, they didn’t want to leave!

The students were great at getting together in groups and excavating their areas. Mostly they found mosasaur vertebrae; one was squished. Some of the fossils were unidentifiable because they were typical Pembina preservation (typically not great!).

Matt's shoe after he pulled it out.
We took the bus back to the highway and turned to go back to the dig site. Along our way we saw a large blue bird just chilling in the ditch, looking rather regal. We debated over whether it was a stork or a heron (turns out it was a heron) and stopped to take some pictures. Well, the heron was shy and flew off gracefully while I ran clumsily behind like a loping zebra with my camera trying to take a picture. I got one, but it was after a lot of zooming and is slightly shaky!

After that Matt and I decided to head to one of our research sites after we had examined some curious outcrops of Millwood shale. Unfortunately for us, Millwood loves water and it loves to retain moisture. I was fortunate enough to scramble safely to the top of the outcrop and examine some of the exposed layers. Matt, however, was not so privileged. The tricky Millwood appeared dry on the crust, but underneath lurked a slippery, goopy quicksand mixture just anxious for someone to step in and sink. Matt just happened to be that “someone.” He took one step and sank up to his knee in the devious Millwood. After some struggling (and many pictures on my part!) he pulled his muddy foot from the shale victoriously and we decided to head to the research site before we had any more mishaps. The rest of the day passed without a hitch as we excavated part of a mosasaur and found a cornucopia of tiny fish teeth. It was a great end to an interesting day!

On the way to one of the dig sites, we saw a painted turtle on the road clambering along. So Matt and Anita graciously decided to move the poor little guy to the side of a pond. Not long after, we walked back to the vehicle and lo and behold! The turtle was now barreling down the road at top speed and into the grass away from the pond. We were certain he just wanted a ride to the CFDC. Needless to say, we didn’t give him one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Its a Hit!

Saturday was our Dig Launch and it turned out to be a fantastic day for it! There were a few clouds, but the afternoon was sunny and warm. Anita and Joey brought out some tents and a picnic table into the field so people could have some shade and just relax. Coolers full of drinks and snacks lay within reach and we even brought a port-a-potty so that our participants were never in need of anything! Field volunteers Ted and Joe helped teach our participants to dig and to identify fossils and Ted sledge hammered in the first railway spike of the season with great pomp and ceremony.

Ted and the 1st rail spike
of the season!

Some that came out were very prepared for the dig. There was one young man that was so prepared he even brought his own tools! He was a future paleontologist in the making. One group discovered some fossils sometime around lunch! I know it was an enjoyable experience for all. We had lots of people (over 80) come out to our dig site and our bus driver, Cam, and Matt were busy every hour giving people a tour through the Manitoba Escarpment as they wound their way up to the site over bumpy gravel roads.

Lisa and I stayed in the museum conducting the free museum tours. We were kept very busy too as our groups swelled from small groups of 4 or 5 to groups of 20. I recall that I started with one group and there were only 3 at the start. By the end, I had around 25 people. It was awesome and we had such a blast! It was also challenging because we had to condense our normal 45 or 50 minute tours into 30 minutes (not as easy as it sounds!) and then add a 15 minute VIP addition: the collection room. We had to make sure that everyone was out in time for the bus and although it was hard sometimes, we managed to pull it off without a hitch!

Tyler and Katie managed the front and took waiver forms while a few of our wonderful volunteers, Jeanette and Linda worked with the kids and took in registration forms respectively. We all had our jobs and the day went smoothly! Everyone seemed to have a great time and Bruce the Mascot even made his appearances around town at the Block Party.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Fishing for Fossils

Wednesday was my first dig tour of this week. I had a large and great group full of enthusiastic kids who were eager to learn. The first fossil was found almost immediately: within 20 minutes of arriving there! Two young boys found a possible fish rib fragment with a hole in it. We hypothesized that it was a tooth mark as the hole was on both sides as if someone (or something) had bit down on both sides. Possibly a mosasaur trying to have some fish for lunch! The second fossil was found shortly after that by two young ladies. It was broken and therefore unidentifiable, but it was still exciting nevertheless! Three more finds followed in rapid succession as our budding paleontologists worked hard to each have their own find. Unfortunately for one group of boys, their find happened to be an anthill full of red ants. Needless to say, they got out of that area pretty quickly!

The quarter is used to
indicate the size
of the fossil.

After the dig I followed Joey, Anita and Ted to our other dig site and we got down to work right away examining the Gammon Ferruginous rocks and moving away the top layers. It was a beautiful day out and while the small stream flowed merrily through the layers of rock, we worked for hours unearthing some more fossils. Joey also bagged some pieces of a fish caudal (tail) fin that had only recently been found.

Thursday we had a smaller group come out. It was an interesting day! The weather made things uneasy for a while, but the kids were absolute troopers and despite the muddy conditions, they continued on with the dig as planned. The morning had started out beautifully; sunny and clear. As soon as we wanted to head out to our dig site the sky darkened and lightning flashed. It started to pour almost immediately and the thunder rolled. The rain, however, stopped again pretty quickly so left it up to the class if they wanted to go out and they decided to move forward with the dig. The site was muddy on the topsoil, but not even an inch down, there was dry dirt. The kids managed to dig themselves little sitting spots that were dry and settled down to dig. It wasn’t long before one of the boys found a fossil! It was very exciting as it might have been a part of a turtle! It was a great discovery for the day and the rest of the afternoon was warm and perfect.