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!

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