Friday, August 28, 2015

A Baryonyx tooth for #FossilFriday, plus blog bonus!

The unique crocodile-like tooth of Baryonyx

Tooth of the english fish-eating spinosaur Baryonyx walkeri. Possibly my favourite of the ~20 or so Baryonyx teeth I have collected (mainly due to the rich red and yellow colours), this is also the stratigraphically lowest, being from half way through Sudmoor bay. Wessex Fm, Barremian, Early Cretaceous, Isle of Wight, UK.

If you like Baryonyx teeth you can find another 20+ illustrated on my SVP poster from 2007. 15mb PDF available here.

Blog bonus!

I recently came across this old press photo (1983) for sale on the internet. The photo shows the original discoverer of Baryonyx, Mr. William (Bill) Walker, along with Sandra Chapman at the Natural History Museum, London. If you're as big of a fan of Baryonyx as I am, then you are probably familiar with the iconic photo of Bill Walker holding up the claw of the dinosaur that bears his name, but I had not seen this photo before (presumably taken at the same sitting). Enjoy!

Sandra Chapman (left) and Bill Walker (right) hold the enlarged hand claw of Baryonyx walkeri.
John Sibbick illustration in the background.
Vintage press photograph for sale at internet shopping website.

Presumably the flip side of the photo.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Iguanodon for Fossil Friday

#Fossil Friday

Over the years I have collected lots of fossils from all over the globe. I have started posting photos of these to my facebook page for #FossilFriday. I'm going to post them here on the blog too.

So far I've been focusing on fossils I have found on the Isle of Wight, UK. This is the best place in Europe to find dinosaur fossils.

So here's this week's image:

Iguanodon. The best dinosaur, or your money back.
This is the nicest Iguanodon tooth that I have found, which is not saying much really. The tooth is from the maxilla (upper jaw) and is nicely preserved as it is unworn, i.e. it had not yet been used by the dinosaur to chew with.

I suppose technically I should say that this is <probably> from Mantellisaurus, which is the new name for Iguanodon atherfieldensis. I'm not a big fan of taxonomists constantly renaming taxa. Collected from the Wessex Fm (Barremian; Lower Cretaceous, ~130 Ma), Brighstone, Isle of Wight, UK.

If you would like to see previous #FossilFriday posts on my Facebook page, head to the album here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Screenwashing, for victory!

So if you followed the link from my previous post over to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum Facebook page, you would have seen a photo of a cute little pachycephalosaur squamosal spike that we found in the first week. Pachycephalosaurs are the famous dome-headed dinosaurs that are often shown headbutting each other (although the evidence supporting this behavior is controversial).

This pachycephalosaur spike came from "trucker's macrosite" which preserves a jumble of bones from various different species. Most of the time, bones in macrosites are water worn, or broken, but a small percentage are better preserved, so macrosites can be good places to look for skull bones, and other diagnostic elements.

One of the other interesting pieces collected from "truckers macrosite" is this fragment:

A braincase fragment from a theropod?
The specimen is constructed from quite thin-walled bone, and has numerous holes ("foramina") passing through it. I was wondering if this might be part of the braincase of a theropod dinosaur. The foramina would therefore represent the holes though which the cranial nerves passed. If anyone has a better idea for the identification of this bone, then I would be very appreciative (I am hoping it is not just parts of a large theropod vertebra).

Trucker's macrosite yielded additional pieces of theropod skull, but each of the interesting specimens from this site is incomplete, with broken ends where (presumably) pieces had broken off during recent weathering. So, in an attempt to find the missing parts of these tantalizing fragments, we returned to the site yesterday to do some intense surface collecting and screenwashing.

Peter Thomas (foreground) and Danny Anduza (shirtless) search for more treasures. Photo by Holley Flora.

Peter, Danny and Holley spent all day collecting every piece of bone from the surface and dry / wet screenwashing shovels of mud to find pieces that had been buried. Today we were trapped in camp by rain, so I started going through the surface collected material to see if we had any of our missing pieces.


Inside the third bag I looked in (collected by Holley) I found this little gem:

Pachycephalosaur squamosal spike, number 2!
The spiked tip is missing, so we will be back screenwashing again to try and find it!
Crewmember Holley Flora (one of my seasoned field crew from 2013 & 2014) had picked up another squamosal spike from a pachycephalosaur! This is almost certainly from the same specimen as our previous spike, so it is possible that there might be more at the site.

Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis by Dr. Jordan Mallon.
The spikes we have found are from the back corners of the skull (squamosals) .
(Image from wikipedia)

You might be familiar with the recent research by my supervisor Jack Horner and Mark Goodwin from UCMP Berkeley. In 2009 they hypothesized that the dome and squamosal spikes of Pachycephalosaurus changed through growth. Young animals had no dome, but exhibited long spikes on the squamosals. The characteristic dome-head of Pachycephalosaurus developed through ontogeny, and was only fully-sized in adults. Curiously, adult Pachycephalosaurus had short rounded knobs on the squamosal, instead of the long spikes of youth.

The spikes that we found are quite small and fairly pointed (based on the angle of the sides, as the tips are missing), so we would interpret them as coming from a young Pachycephalosaurus.

As a bonus, in the next few bags of bone fragments, I found quite a few new pieces to go with the possible braincase. Overall, not a bad return for a rain day!


Friday, July 17, 2015

New juvenile Triceratops and pieces of theropods

From a slow start... finally warming up

During our first week in the field we discovered many important microsites, but I was disappointed with the lack of sites yielding decent large material. However, in the past week we have started to find a few acceptable skeletal sites (and of course, even more microsites!), which is what I'll be reporting on here.

I'm also going to try and blog a bit more often, but with shorter posts each time.

Understanding growth in Triceratops-  a new juvenile Triceratops

One of the ongoing research projects for my coauthor John Scannella, and supervisor Jack Horner is the growth of the horned dinosaur Triceratops. We are especially interested in changes in the shape of the frill from juveniles through to adults, so any new discoveries of juvenile material is very welcome. In the first week we found a fragment from a juvenile Triceratops frill (which we collected) but a few days ago crew member Jack Wilson found a better partial frill which he called "Jack's Blue Juvie Trike":

"Jack's Blue Juvie Trike": Jack's new juvenile Triceratops includes this piece of the parietal (middle of the frill) and three "epiparietal" spikes.

Although it is quite fragmentary, "Jack's Blue Juvie" specimen preserves just the right pieces to tell us some new information about the ontogeny of the frill border. Research by Jack Horner and Mark Goodwin (Horner and Goodwin, 2006; 2008) has shown that in juvenile Triceratops (as seen here), the epiparietals are shaped like equilateral triangles and are unfused or "loose" on the edge of the frill. Through growth, the epiparietals become much less pointed, flattening into a spindle shape and completely fusing to the frill border in adulthood.

Complete Juvie Trike: This is "DF Juvie Trike III" that I found in 2008.
(skeleton on display at Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman; skull on exhibit at the Burpee Museum, IL, and the Smithsonian in Washington DC!).

"Count Trikeula" -an adult Triceratops

We have found a few adult Triceratops sites, but most of these have been quite poor. However, we have finally knocked into a decent Triceratops site which crew member Danny named "Count Trikeula":

Count Trikeula: After a few false starts, our first decent Triceratops site. Here (if you know what you are looking at) you can see part of the epijugal (cheek spike), and the edge of the squamosal (part of the frill).
Despite there being many fine Triceratops skulls in museums, most of these frustratingly lack any contextual data, so are not very useful for understanding Triceratops evolution. Sadly, this is especially true of the holotype(s) of Triceratops held at many venerable institutions on the east coast. 

However, recent collecting by the Museum of the Rockies (Montana State University) and UCMP Berkeley recovered ~100 new Triceratops skulls, and we took care to record contextual data, especially the stratigraphic position of the specimens (whether they occur in the lower or upper parts of the Hell Creek Formation). This effort has revealed that Triceratops evolves from the species T. horridus in the lower Hell Creek Formation to T. prorsus in the upper Hell Creek Formation (Scannella et al., 2014). If our 2014 paper is correct then "Count Trikeula" *should* be a Triceratops horridus. In this way, every new Triceratops specimen we find can be used to test the hypothesis proposed in the Scannella et al., (2014) paper.

Theropod bones

We've had quite a bit of luck finding bones from theropod dinosaurs, including some exceptional odds and ends that will be used for some new research. I'll be posting a bit more on these in the future, but in the meantime here are a few photos:

Theropod femur: This is a femur from a medium-sized theropod; either an immature T. rex, or maybe a very large ornithomimid (ostrich mimic). We dug around the bone but did not find any more bones at this site, so it looks like it is isolated, and not part of a skeleton. In the lower Hell Creek Formation, it is commonplace to find isolated bones like this, and they tend to be covered in a thin layer of white concretion, with the bone itself is fairly brittle. Theropod femora are not common finds however, so we will be jacketing and collecting this specimen.

Raptor phalanx: This is a toe bone from the foot of a small "raptor" dinosaur. I have published a few research papers on how small carnivorous dinosaurs might have used their feet in capturing and killing prey (Fowler et al., 2009; 2011), and even isolated finds like this can be informative.

BONUS 1! : Mystery bone

My crew and I are pretty good at identifying bones in the field. However, occasionally we come across interesting little fragments that have a distinctive shape, but which we cannot immediately identify. Many of these "mystery bones" have turned out to be important finds in the past, so we make a habit of picking them up. So in that vein: does anyone have an idea what this mystery bone might be?

Mystery bone: an isolated fragment from a channel lag deposit. The foramina and texture looks like skull fragment, but the bone is robust enough to suggest it is not from a theropod dinosaur. I was thinking it might be part of the lower jaw, maybe the distal end of a dentary where a predentary might attach. It has enough morphology to be identifiable. Suggestions welcome in the comments!

BONUS 2!: Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, Malta

Some of the fossils that we have found are temporarily on exhibit at Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, Malta. I have intentionally not mentioned a few of the things that are on display there, and you will need to visit the museum's Facebook page to see them (or even better, visit in person!). There are going to be some nice fossils going on display there in the next week or so.

Okay, we're heading off to do some more prospecting!



Fowler, D. W., Freedman, E. A., Scannella, J. B., & Kambic, R. E. (2011). The predatory ecology of Deinonychus and the origin of flapping in birds. PLoS One, 6(12), e28964.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

First report: bad weather and microfossils


So... last night we were hit by 60-80 mph winds and large quarter/golfball sized hail.

50-cent coin sized hail!
(Photo: J. Wilson)

My cheap tent was destroyed by the hail (I have a replacement). Hail also blasted the skylights off the trailer and put some holes in other plastic fixings around camp. The truck is okay. (Photo: J. Wilson)

Today we are clearing up debris, drying out sleeping bags, and cannibalising my tent to fix holes in others.

Prospecting for dinosaurs

The past couple of days we have been out prospecting and found some interesting things. We haven't come across a particularly good dinosaur site yet; We discovered four sites with scrappy Triceratops remains, and crewmember Danny found a Triceratops site that had nice preservation quality:

"Horns of Plenty": This is part of the frill of a Triceratops. This could have been a good site, but we could not locate the bone layer as it was very overgrown with plants. No matter, we will find another.

If we had been prospecting in the upper Hell Creek, then I would expect to run into a Triceratops site every 200 metres or so. However, the lower Hell Creek is much less rich for fossils, so we have to cover much more ground. We will keep looking, and I am sure we will turn up something good eventually.


Despite not finding much large material, the past few days we have recorded four good microsites. Microsites yield lots of tiny fossils like teeth and small vertebrae, and occasional larger fossils like finger and toe bones (phalanges) and claws. Microsites are used by paleontologists like Dr. Greg Wilson and his students to study how the complete fauna of the Hell Creek Formation changes through time. Our new localities are all very low in the Hell Creek Formation, and so should provide valuable datapoints.

This is a metatarsal III (middle toe) of either a medium-sized Tyannosaurus rex, or a large ornithomimid dinosaur. This specimen was recovered from Danny's site "Danny's rex micro".

This is a tooth from a dromaeosaurid: a small "raptor" dinosaur. Jack Wilson found this at his site "Jack' Neck Microsite". This site is potentially SUPER-EXCITING as it yielded the posterior end of a cervical (neck) vertebra which *might* be from a pterosaur (which are incredibly rare in the Hell Creek). Black bar width 1cm.

Fish remains from"Warwick's diddy Microsite": a skull plate (left); two vertebrae (top); a ray tooth (right), and a toothed palate (bottom middle). Scale in cm.

A champsosaur vertebra (left) and turtle fragment (right) from "Warwick's diddy microsite".

Two phalanges (toe bones) from "Warwick's diddy microsite". Scale 1cm.

Tyrannosaurus teeth. Often commercial collectors will sell small teeth like this as "Nanotyrannus", but it has not been demonstrated that Nanotyrannus is actually a unique species. Research by tyrannosaur expert Thomas Carr (and others) shows that purported Nanotyrannus specimens actually represent immature Tyrannosaurus.

Teeth from the small raptor-like dinosaur Richardoestesia. No-one knows what Richardoestesia looked like as so far scientists have only found its teeth. These are very unusual-looking for theropod teeth, suggesting that this species might have had an unusual feeding method or ecology.

Another dromaeosaurid "raptor" tooth.

I'm saving the second-best fossil for last (assuming that Jack's vertebra is pterosaur). Here is a jaw of a marsupial found two days ago:

Marsupial lower jaw. I am hoping some mammal expert can help identify this specimen in the comments. It looks to me like Glasbius sp. maybe, or something related?

Ok, back to cleaning up camp!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hunting Dinosaurs on the American Prairie Reserve

With the critical details finalized and signed, I can finally reveal what my crew and I will be doing for this summer's fieldwork.

Starting July 1st, we will be prospecting for dinosaur fossils on the American Prairie Reserve: an enormous expanse of land in northeastern Montana, dedicated to restoring the prairie ecosystem to as close to its original condition as possible. The reserve stretches over approximately 305,000 acres of deeded and BLM- or state-leased land, sandwiched between Fort Peck Lake and the town of Malta, and is teeming with familiar inhabitants of the great American west, boasting herds of bison, elk, and antelope, accompanied by many of the smaller species such as prairie dogs, sharp-tailed grouse, and everyone's favorite: burrowing owls!

Icon of the great plains, the American Bison.
Image from APR

The burrowing owl Athene cunicularia looks slightly goofy with its long legs, but they are one of my favourite inhabitants of the prairie. In my previous fieldwork I was lucky enough to drive by a nest of these cute little guys every day. I hope we see some more this summer!
Image from APR, photo by Ellen Anderson

American Prairie Reserve is keen to see scientific studies conducted on the land and so invited us to set up a new paleontological initiative, surveying the reserve for research-significant fossils. Donors have generously provided funds for me to lead a team out on to the reserve for an initial two field seasons, adding an exciting new (and prehistoric!) dimension to our understanding of North America's continental ecosystems.

As you might imagine, American Prairie Reserve is mostly a vast expanse of prairie habitat dominated by sweeping grassy plains and lazy rounded hills, not the rocky badlands where we would typically look for dinosaur fossils. However, craggy outcrops of the Hell Creek Formation poke up through the prairie in places, and it is in these areas that my crew and I will be prospecting for new fossil localities.

Much of the APR is covered by prairie, some of which is populated by herds of American Bison.
Image from APR

Rocky outcrop on the APR, possibly not of the Hell Creek Formation, but you get the idea.
Image from APR, photo by Gib Myers

Hell Creek Formation - end of the dinosaurs

The Hell Creek Formation should be familiar to anyone interested in dinosaurs, as it is from the Hell Creek that famous species such as the horned dinosaur Triceratops and the enormous carnivore Tyrannosaurus have been found. Most famously the upper boundary of the Hell Creek Formation records the K-T mass extinction that saw the end of the age of dinosaurs. The fossils and geology surrounding the extinction horizon have been well-studied by teams of researchers over the past half-century or so, and continue to this day. However, we are going to be building on some recent fieldwork and research that focuses on the lower part of the Hell Creek Formation, which is most of what is exposed on the American Prairie Reserve. A paper that I recently coauthored with John Scannella, Mark Goodwin, and my PhD supervisor Jack Horner (Scannella et al., 2014; PNAS), showed that Triceratops evolves over the ~1.5 million years represented by the Hell Creek Formation. In the lower part of the Hell Creek Formation  we find Triceratops horridus, which possesses a small nose horn. In our paper we hypothesize that Triceratops horridus later evolved into Triceratops prorsus, which is only found in the upper part of the formation and possesses a large nose horn (with other more subtle differences). I would like to investigate further these kinds of changes between the lower and upper Hell Creek faunas. The first step is to get out and gather some data: finding new fossils.

Triceratops in the lower part of the Hell Creek Formation (bottom) have small nose horns, which evolved into large nose horns (top) shortly before the K-T boundary extinction.
Image from the scientific paper Scannella et al. 2014 (see below for full reference).

I can't begin to tell you how excited we are by all of this. Finding dinosaurs is pretty amazing anyway, but to do so surrounded by rich prairie teeming with wildlife is going to be something very special indeed. We are going to be reporting from the field to document this initial phase of scientific research, looking at all aspects of fieldwork such as finding and identifying fossils and camp life. We are hoping that the fossils we find can be exhibited locally at Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta (website, facebook), although Carter County Museum in Ekalaka (website, facebook) has kindly offered to be the official federal repository.

Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta has some incredible dinosaur fossils on display, especially of the duckbill Brachylophosaurus, which are found in the Judith River Formation exposed north of town.
Photograph by Sarah Boessenecker.

Curator Nate Carroll talks about the duckbilled dinosaur Edmontosaurus to  a group of children at Carter County Museum, Ekalaka (the federal repository for the fossils that we find).
Check out their annual public festival: the DINO SHINDIG!
Photo from Carter County Museum on Facebook.


Finally, I would like to explicitly (and implicitly) thank everyone who has been involved in setting up this new initiative. Myself and my crew unreservedly appreciate the efforts and support provided by American Prairie Reserve and many other people who have made this possible. Thank you! We hope that we can return this faith with exciting new fossils and research!

Now, in the meantime I must get back to writing up my dissertation...

Some links related to this article:

Carter County Museum, Ekalaka

Bureau of Land Management -Paleontology page 

Really nice documentary by PBS on the high-plains prairie habitat. Still streamable (in USA at least)



This fieldwork is being undertaken by the independent company "Fowler Paleontology and Geology" newly registered in the state of Montana. All opinions, facts, and / or errors in this blog are those of Denver Fowler (i.e. me), and not any other person, company, or organisation who might be mentioned here in any capacity.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Open Access, tired reviewers, and the free market: time for reviewer credit?

There is an editorial in Nature this week which has attracted a lot of criticism on the internet. "Open access is tiring out peer reviewers" by Dr. Martijn Arns suggests that a rise in scientific publications is due to increased numbers of manuscript submissions to open-access journals, and that this is placing increased pressure on peer-reviewers.

Whether or not Dr. Arns is correct about open access, it is fair to say that the number of publications is increasing. Welcome to the world of 'publish-or-perish', where even undergraduates are pressured to have maybe one paper under their belt in order to be competitive for grad school places. An increase in submissions is inevitable under these conditions. But this is not what I am writing about here.

Dr Arns complains that reviewers are "overworked and fatigued" and suggests that "quality will suffer — across the board — unless something is done". Under the free market system, this translates to increased demand for the commodity that is academic reviewers. This should consequently be reflected by an increase in price for that commodity, leading us to the question:

Would reviewers be less "tired" if journals started properly compensating them?

The subject of paid reviewers is controversial, and I will not go over the pros and cons here. Personally, I believe that academia is best served by a spirit of collegiality where review is freely provided to fellow researchers. At the same time, in a world where academics are being financially squeezed from all sides, it is immoral (not to mention poor business practice) to simply give away one of our most marketable skills to massive-profit-making multinational publishing houses.

Some researchers have said that they will simply refuse to perform free reviews for profit-making journals, but this is not an option for early-career scientists, who need to publish and review for these "prestigious" journals as they are held in higher esteem by employers and tenure boards.

Still, in this world of corporate universities, I wonder how long it will be before college CEOs stop allowing their paid professors to simply give their time away in free consultancy for multinational publishing corporations. If this was to happen, I am not sure how much of a backlash there would be from already overworked professors.

But how could reviewers be compensated for their work? Direct financial compensation comes with its own problems, and is never going to happen anyway; however, I think that "journal credit" for reviews is a good compromise. I have received this kind of compensation for two of the reviews that I have conducted, in the form of 12 months free online access to an otherwise subscription-based journal.

I suggest that a widening of this system to the university level would be a fair form of reviewer compensation: for each review, the reviewer's institutional library would receive one credit point from the publishing house, which could then be used to offset journal subscription costs. This would incentivize peer review for the reviewer and parent institution, and would cost little for the publishers. Universities with large research programs would probably attract more peer review "business" and could then either keep library costs down, or subscribe to more journals. An increase in journal subscriptions would benefit publishers, and authors whose work is published in journals with increased readership. Reviewers would at least feel like they got something back for their labor, and maybe would be held in greater esteem by their institutions.

I have not seen this idea suggested elsewhere, so I decided to throw it out here. My 2 cents.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Another Morrison mystery: vintage photos of dinosaur digs from ~1912

Okay, so I haven't got around to making a post on fieldwork yet, but I thought I would put together a quick post about some additional vintage Morrison Formation fieldwork images from ~1912. Pictures with a story to tell...

These five Real Photo Postcards (RPPCs) recently sold on Ebay (I didn't bid on them). I had not seen any of these images before, so maybe they are each truly one-of-a-kind RPPCs; if this is the case then they may be unique records of collecting during this era.

Fortunately, the seller included high-resolution photos of the cards, which depict some intriguing details. Here is the full set, and a view of the reverse sides (see later for closeups):

The set of recently sold RPPCs: mass produced or unique amateur photographs?
(image from Ebay)

Reverse side. The writing reads "Hunting for bones of ancient Mammals in the Uinta Deposits" (sic).
(image from Ebay)

Unique images?

You might remember from my previous blog post that earlier this year I purchased some RPPCs showing early 20th century dinosaur excavations in the Morrison Formation.  I was excited as many RPPCs are unique, created by amateur photographers using a special Kodak camera with which you could print your own photos as postcards. However, I concluded that my postcards were not unique as they had text added to the front, making them look semi-professional at least, and I had found another example of one RPPC for sale elsewhere. My cards were from c.1903-30, and quite rare, but they were part of a larger print run. Darn.

I am not so sure that all of the cards in this new set were similarly mass-produced. The bottom left and bottom centre RPPCs are full-frame prints, and the bottom left RPPC has some handwritten text added to a dark area of the image. I suspect that these two might be part of a larger print run. However, the three photos with white borders are poorly framed, differing sizes, and one is slightly out of focus. Not very professional. These are also the more interesting cards.

Let's take a closer look.

PC1. A view of outcrop, presumably where the photographer was searching for fossils.
Full-frame RPPC, (image cropped from Ebay photo)


The first image shows some badlands in the distance, and some barrels (maybe field equipment, or watering for cows). It's pretty unexciting stuff, but it contains the handwritten caption "Feb 13, 1912 Looking North", providing us with an age consistent with the time when RPPCs were available (1903-30), and when there were significant excavations in the Morrison Formation, and surrounding areas.

PC2. Pack mules moving boxes of fossils?
White-border RPPC, (image cropped from Ebay photo)


This second photo depicts a series of boxes at the end of a trail. In the distance, some animals (pack mules?) can be seen moving toward the boxes. There are not many other clues in this image to inform us of what is going on, unless someone recognizes the trail. Are there fossils in those boxes?

PC3. A man searching among blocks of sandstone exposed in some badlands.
Full-frame RPPC, (image cropped from Ebay photo)


This RPPC shows a man investigating what appears to be blocks of sandstone exposed in badlands topography. If the Ebay seller arranged the postcard reverse sides the same as the front (see above photos), then this is the card that has "Hunting for bones of ancient Mammals in the Uinta Deposits" (sic) written on the reverse. Were the fossil hunters looking for ancient mammals? There are certainly many large extinct mammals known from the Uinta basin and Uinta mountains of Utah, including the bizarre-looking Uintatherium: an enormous herbivorous mammal that lived during the Eocene (~45-50 Mya), and whose remains are well-known from the Bridger and Wakashie Formations of Wyoming and Utah.

The dinoceratan mammal, Uintatherium.
Is the man photographed in PC3 looking for remains of giant Eocene mammals?
(image from Wikipedia, originally from Scott, 1913)

It's possible that the field crew were in the Uinta deposits searching for a range of different fossils, so maybe they really were looking for mammals. I am not familiar with the Eocene exposures in this area, so I cannot say whether or not the outcrop patterns of the cliffs look Eocene, or whether they look more like the much older Jurassic Morrison Formation (~150 Mya). However, the following photos definitely look Morrison to me.

PC4. Two men digging into a steeply inclined cliff with what is probably a long plaster jacket.
White-border RPPC, (original blurred image cropped from Ebay seller image)

The fourth photo (unfortunately blurred) appears to show a near vertical cliff face with a long thin plaster jacket adhered to it. You can just about make out the shape of some large bones at the far end of the jacket. The uplifted rocks and size of the bones suggest to me that this is an excavation into the Late Jurassic Morrison Fm (maybe even Dinosaur National Monument itself), and that the long thin jacket is a sauropod dinosaur tail.

PC5. Is this a photo of the jackets from PC4?
The fifth photo possibly shows the long narrow jacket from PC4 being prepared in the lab. In the foreground is an opened jacket containing what appears to be an articulated series of elongated vertebrae from the end of a diplodocid sauropod tail (see below). In the background is another part of the jacket, next to what looks like a sauropod neck vertebra, with more vertebrae in the sandbox (back left).

Vertebrae from the end of a Diplodocus tail,as figured in Holland, 1906;
The vertebrae in the jacket in PC5 look almost identical to the lower two rows.

The tail of Diplodocus had a long thin whiplash-like end. (image source:

Are these postcards unique images of an important fossil expedition? The nature of RPPCs makes this a possibility, but I do not know. However, there cannot be many historically collected diplodocid tails, so perhaps someone with better knowledge of the subject can shed some light on this little mystery. Either way, I enjoy seeing these old-timer field photos. I hope you do too!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Old Morrison Formation sauropod quarry postcards

Ok, so I'm starting up the blog again. I will post some Wealden and New Mexico field stories in the near future, but will start with a quick post about some interesting vintage postcards.

I recently purchased two vintage Real Photo Postcards (RPPCs) of dinosaur quarries:

The postcard caption reads "Fosil Quary - Jensen - In the Uintah Basin"

With more gracious spelling, this postcard reads "Fossil Quarry Vernal, Utah"
The postcards were part of a small collection of RPPCs mounted on brown card, all depicting various scenes from north east Utah in the early 20th century; including Native Americans on horseback, the big Mormon temple at Manti, Utah, and a "Rangely gasser on fire" (which looks like a slightly-out-of-control gas flare to me).

RPPCs were produced by the 3A folding pocket camera introduced by Kodak in 1902. Despite its small-sounding name, the 3A produced large 3.25 x 5.5 inch negatives that could be printed directly on to postcard stock. As such, many RPPCs are unique images taken by amateur photographers, rather than mass produced.

RPPCs were popular from 1903 through to the 1930's. Around this time, major excavations of dinosaur fossils were being undertaken in the Morrison Formation of Utah and Colorado. I hadn't seen either of these dinosaur quarry photos before, so I was intrigued at the possibility that they might be unique images.

Alas, with a little searching I found another example of the second photo for sale online, so it is not unique. Given the writing in the photographs, it was probably too much to hope that they would be one-of-a-kind. Still, I would be interested to know which dinosaur specimens are featured in the photos. They are clearly large sauropods, probably Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, or Apatosaurus. Does anyone have any ideas or leads as to which specimens might be in the photos?