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!