a production of Black Hills Institute
No one knows for sure what's hidden underground at any dinosaur dig until each excavation day reveals its secrets. Sarah, our host biologist and veteran dinosaur digger, welcomes you with each day's news. Let her introduce you to our dig team, our resident and visiting scientists, and - most importantly - "Wyrex"! Sarah is your source for everything you need to know, though other people will report from time to time as well. Join us for each previous day's developments as the dig progresses!
How long will it take? Good question, we're glad you asked. We have absolutely no idea! Some of these T. rex critters we've dug up within three weeks, while others we have spent months, or even years digginglooking for those stray bones that always seem to be just 'a couple of more feet away.'
Are the reports from the same day as things happen? Well, it depends. We will try to bring all of the media and stories we have found for a particular day and bring them together so you may see the event in a cohesive way. This means most reports will be of what happened the previous day. If something very exciting happensand it usually does at a T. rex digwe will probably try to put what we can up on the site as quickly as possible to let everyone know.
Note: Daily reports are sorted starting with the most recent at top.
Add to the bone list: The Atlas (the first cervical vertebra, where skull attaches to spinal column) - not recently discovered but forgotten from the last update.
Work continues: On the big blocks, the 'dirt' has been removed and the preparators are left with Iron Carbonate (FeCO3 or Siderite) encasing the bones with scattered pockets of pyrite. This extremely hard matrix (think: fine grained concrete) makes for slow progress. Debbie's Block (Block D) is revealing a string of tail vertebra (basal caudal verts), chevrons, and ribs in addition to many additional patches of skin. Christy is working on Block B containing an attractive, thought slightly crushed Tibia and Femur. Chris's block (Block I) is a Pick-Up Sticks pile of more ribs and gastralia.
Shirley is working on the loose bones, many of which are chevrons. Something neat: She uncovered a very interesting and as-yet-undetermined pathology. Preliminarily, it seems to be a healed, uninfected scrape of the surface of the bone. Fall? Battle Wound? Love Bite???
Most of the uncovered skull bones have been restored and are in line for the molding department.
There has recently been some good conversation on the forum about Wyrex's skin.
Meanwhile, back at the lab...
When we got back from the field, we almost immediately began cleaning out the blocks to see just what we had.
Here's what we have so far:
A number of smaller blocks have been completely finished with work continuing one 3 of the larger blocks.
We also found the first skin impressions from a T. rex and assorted plant material.
During our last visit to the dig site, they found a small 6" unidentified dinosaur femur and a few more turtles but no more Wyrex.. maybe next spring...
In the mean time, some bones have moved to the molding department - we'll try to get pictures to you soon of that process.
About the turtles: the turtle count is now up to 22. All the complete turtles we have found are Plesiobaena antiqua with additional partial turtle material from a second genus.
Weather: Fate Rule #1,637: on the last day of something, the weather improves. Although skies were overcast, we awoke to temperatures in the mid-50s. By noon, it was 75. As we drove across the prairie, it was 79and we could see the Black Hills in the distance, where pockets of rain showers striped gray-blue from the sky to the horizon.
Breakfast: Coffee, and caramel rolls (Allison's recipe made by Jeri!).
Lunch: Our going-away party: lunch in Baker at Sakelaris's. Pete had chicken-fried steak (he calls it "chicken fried snake"). There were BLT's, at least one patty melt, a couple of Philly steaks, and plenty of burgers.
Dinner: Dinner was a do-it-yourself affair, because we were back home in Hill City. As soon as the basics had been put away, the staff melted into the scenery, back to their homes.
Synopsis: The day began the night before in the tech trailer. The Web crew started their break-down of equipmentas soon as something had performed its last service for the upload, it was packed away. But still, plenty of stuff had to stay hooked up until the bitter end (or until Larry himself could deal with it). Larry ended up staying awake all nightwhile the upload was uploading, he broke down whatever wasn't in action. By the time everyone else awoke, the trailer was piled with boxes and cases.
Then everyone pitched in with packing up to ready for departure as soon as the last big block was moved. The Chow Van supplies were stored, and extra boxes of bones and this-and-that filled its aisle. Everything that was out went in. The satellite dish disappeared into its case; solar panels were laid safely on what moments ago had been someone's bed.
Then the Wyricks arrived, and it was time. Almost everyone hopped into the back of one of the pick-up trucks, and down we went for the Main Event.
The big block, all 4,500 pounds of it, lay like a giant, white table top, perched on three thick pedestals of rock. A sturdy wooden truss had been built around the entire mass. The plaster jacket was crystallized and dry. There was an air of excitement: even with all the planning, troubleshooting, experience, perfect equipment for the job, and experts, something can always go wrong. The last thing anyone needs at a moment like this is to break somebody else's dinosaur.
While Don hopped into his trusty Versatile tractorthe perfect machine for the jobNeal, Pete, and Sam grabbed spud bars and gently began chipping away at the two front pedestals. You might not think that cutting rock away, with four-foot-long steel chisels, can occur gently. It can, but it's not easy, especially when the operators are crouched or bent at the waist, striking with and balancing the bars while holding them away from their bodies. With every chip, we all watched for any movement of the block.
Finally, the front end of the behemoth melted forward, settling gently onto a nice bed of rock chipsits tail slightly in the air. Don fired up the Versatile.
First he laid a giant scoop of soft sand and dirt in front of the block, so that when it rolled it would do so on a cushion. Next, in order to use the chain system now familiar to the crew, Don maneuvered the tractor's bucket over the specimen. Then, in two steps, Don rolled the heavy block upside-down. It's really kind of amazing how tenderly he was able to do this, considering the block's weight and the fact that he was using a giant machine.
Finally, the block was rechained and lifted completely off the ground, and then transported to the trailer that will haul it to Hill City. The block was so heavy that the Versatile's front tires looked flat.
With an air of wistfulness, the crew hopped back into trucks and drove out of the badlands to our prairie camp. The last odds and ends were put into place, and the caravan began to snake into Baker for lunch, and then home.
Except for two dead batteries (the Chow Van and Jeri's truck, in camp) and a flat tire (Half Truck, just outside of Baker), the trip home was uneventful.
People: We said good-bye to Jeri at camp, but the Wyricks came to lunch with us. It was a little sad saying good-bye to them. It was like graduating from school, where you don't know what life will be like without that particular daily experience. In the parking lot, the discussion kept coming back to the calendar: when will the Wyricks make their next trip to Hill City? We also knew that the end of this adventure would spell the end of our time with Andy, our fabulous volunteer from Wisconsin. And soon after, intern Tristan also will return home to The Children's Museum in Indianapolis. We also lost our most fabulous Sarah, which is why Pete's voice is on our audio slide shows on this last day. Pretty soon, it will just be us. And Wyrex.
What's Next: Wyrex will now move into the preparation stageand since everyone wants to know which bones are contained in the blocks, exploration into those will begin right away. We'll continue to update this site with the latest news, when we have it. You'll also notice that the Web site might look a bit different, as Larry fine-tunes itnow that we're used to how it works.
Thanks! Thanks to everyone who visited us on this adventureboth physically and virtually. Your contact with us via the Web not only paved the way for amazing interaction and science talk, but also allowed family, friends, and brand new pals to cheer on our workers individually. It made our day-to-dayness easier, more fun, and less isolated. Not to mention the care package from Andy's parents. Did we mention the care package?
Weather: Our best day so farmorning temperature was about 45, and it climbed to the low 70's. We had a few passing rain showers that were so light, work just continued. The temp inside the tech trailer climbed to 80. Ahh.
Breakfast: Coffee. Just coffee. (Hee hee, except for Sarah and Kristin, who went out to breakfast with Kirby, in town. It was his last morningbut still, don't tell anyone else.)
Lunch: Cold cuts sandwiches; chips & salsa. All the soft drinks were long gone.
Dinner: Everything that was left in the fridge: burgers & brats; onions au gratin; pasta salad; potato wedges. Plus, Nikki made a fresh rhubarb crisp (just like yesterday's, but not yesterday's).
Synopsis: The day began with the removal of the neck / body block, which was plastered yesterday and crystallized overnight. This cleared the path for the biggest job yet: figuring where and how to split the remaining body / pelvis mass into two parts. It's a good thing the guys know geometry and physics.
Before they got serious with geometry, they spent a large portion of the day plastering and tunnelingthe usual with large masses of bone. Then came the hard part.
Stage One: finding the dividing line between the parts. Matt drilled straight down through a lucky passage in the bones, in soft matrix.
Stage Two: building a truss to support the body portion of the block. Pete tried something new: he designed the truss in the shape of a triangle ("balancing" on a point), and then planned to use the Bobcat as a hoist.
Stage Three: by chaining the block to the Bobcat, and then cutting out the truss's support pillar, the Bobcat could then allow a little slack in the lineand gravity took over, allowing the block to pivot on its fulcrum. The Bobcat provided constant, steady support as the block slowly lowered onto one of the triangle sides.
Stage Four: instead of using muscle to then roll the 2000-pound block over on its head for transport, again the Bobcat was able to lift, gently pull, and roll the structure onto the third side of the triangle.
After this block was removed, one last chore remains. It weighs 4000 pounds, and contains the pelvis, a femur, and a foot. This part of the specimen will be removed in one piece, tomorrow. Today's job included all the final plastering for that block. By morning, it will be ready to turn.
In other news, the remnants of the Bone Searching Crew focused once again on the north and southwest ends of the quarrythe last places where bones had been found. Some very nice clams showed up in the north end, and a good turtle skull in the southwest corner. Pete plans to return later this year for further exploration; perhaps more of Wyrex will turn up then. He also took a detailed geologic cross-section of the area, and tied it into the K/T Boundary. He discovered that the K/T is about 100 feet above the specimen, which helps to define its age at probably under 66 million years.
People: Kirby left today. He planned to come at 10 a.m., say good-bye, and leave. He stayed until 3 p.m. Turning the block was too exciting. We'll all miss him a great deal, especially Peteuntil August, when some of us will visit him at his Morrison quarry in Wyoming. Since it was our last full day, and the weather was perfect, the boys built a giant bonfire and everyone sat around chatting. Allison and Don brought an anniversary cake for Nikki and Sam (their first).
Our last Daily Update: Don't worry, it's not today! We'll shoot the events of tomorrow before we all drive away, and then we'll immediately plug in again at Black Hills Institute to tell you the latest. Tomorrow's Daily Update will be our last in our regular series, but not the last of this Web site. Larry will then keep you posted about how he'll manage the site in the future!
Weather: Sun, then rain, then sun, then rain. Wind all the time. It started out 38, and got to a high of 59. But it didn't feel like it. By evening, the sky was dynamic and wild, and the weather was the best of the day.
Breakfast: Coffee, almond cake (left over from our banquet), coffee, Granola Bars, coffee. In the tech trailer, some people sneaked the leftover brownies, too.
Lunch: Leftover smorgasbord: spaghetti, crackers & cheese, roast beef (Pete says "roast beast"), potato salad, fresh veggies. Stuff like that.
Dinner: Meatloaf; twice-baked potatoes; stuffing; cucumber salad; corn; rolls; rhubarb crisp.
Synopsis: Today was a day of divide-and-conquer. The entire remaining bone mass (13.5 x 6.5 feet) was plasteredin some circumstances, a block of this size could be removed in one piece. However, in this case, the rock is very crumbly and unstable, so the piece had to be divided into four blocks (not counting the two that had already been removed, as of yesterday).
The first was the femur blockcalled "the cross-bones" because of the now-familiar arrangement of the bones (you've seen them in many photos!).
The second was a portion of the body and neck.
The third was the main body block.
The fourth was the pelvic block (which necessitated the removal of part of the pubic boot).
The blocks on each end#1 cross-bones, and #2 the body/neck blockwere worked on. Both blocks were tunneled under and prepared in the same manner as the blocks from yesterday; by the end of the day, cross-bones was removed. If the noontime rainstorm had not stalled work, and if the evening rainstorm had not stalled work, we could have accomplished more plastering. But even so, by tomorrow, #2 will come out; work will begin on #3 and #4.
As each block is broken off the main mass, the crew must watch carefully for scattering pieces. When cross-bones was removed, only a small amount of bone was dislodged from the tibia, and it was easily retrieved. It was a fortuitous break that did no major damage. All in all, a successful day.
People: A quiet day on the people front. When the crew is off at the site all day, everyone's too busy to get into much trouble. However, the mourning is beginning: Kirby leaves tomorrow morning, and we will miss him greatly. Pete has known Kirby for thirty years now, and he represents some of the very best times in Pete's life. Having Kirby at this quarry was a very special pleasure for himand for everyone else. In order to set the stage for keeping a stiff upper lip upon Kirby's departure, Dan and Matt Seney rented Casablanca for tonight's showing at the walk-in theater.
Weather: Fabulous. The low was a chilly 37, but the sun definitely came out. What a relief, to feel 61-degree temps. The wind even calmed. It was, well, Spring. Again.
Breakfast: The usual.
Lunch: Leftovers from last night's banquet; sandwich makings.
Dinner: Shhh, Nikki made tortellini, but some of the crew escaped to town. Including Nikki. She felt like "eating something I can't make."
Synopsis: While the labor was hard and long, the story for today is really rather short. The overall plan has been outlined: most of the area around the main bone mass has been canvassed for bones that may have migrated away from the massnow the job is to remove the mass itself. Continuing with the jacketing process begun before the rain, the blocks began coming out.
First, the portion with skull bones. Then, the tail block. An enormous task, and heavy, it required many people, lots of plaster and wood supports, and the Bobcat. When a large block is readied for the removal process, it is pedestaled on several pillars. Then, once the plaster has solidified completely, the pedestals are gently cut away; gravity then allows one end to drop slowlysplitting the block from the main mass of bones.
It sounds so simple. It takes all day.
In other news, small bones were removed individually, such as gastralia and ribs. Once they were mapped, labeled, catalogued, and removed, the crew could see signs of very interesting small bones underneathfound near the spot that yielded the very first T. rex wrist bone. We'll keep you posted when we know what they are.
The one new discovery we were sure about: Turtle Number 15.
People: Neal and Matt returned today, after their week away! Yippee! In the tech trailer, people are dragging a bit from their goofy scheduleand they lobbied for a night in town, their first. By the time Sarah had talked other crew members into joining them, Larry was lost in creating a topographic map diagram. It would have taken a Bobcat to drag him out of here.
Weather: Icky. The morning started out not too bad, in the 40s. It warmed up briefly, and the sun shined for a few minutes now and then. Off on the horizon, we even saw some blue sky, far, far, away. By afternoon, it began to bluster, and by 6 p.m., we had blowing rain and a temperature of 39. By 6:40 it was either snowing or sleeting; Pete couldn't tell whichhe had his glasses off. The locals tell us tomorrow will be better. Cross your fingers.
Breakfast: The usual. Some people discovered the chai.
Lunch: The premier item for lunch was provided by Andy's parents in a very welcome care package: a cheese, sausage, and cracker platter. For those who lagged three minutes behind the lunch bell, or who were coming in out of the weather, Nikki also put out leftover beef stew, sandwich makings, and lots of snacks for grazing.
Dinner: The highlight of the day, dinner was brought by our volunteer photographer, Jeri, and her husband Rob Dobrowski. Roast beef; baked potatoes; veggie salad; cheesy garlic bread; cookie fruit salad; Texas sheet cake (Sam added, "It's almond flavored!"). Oh, and did we mention: margaritas!?
Synopsis: Today's activities occurred on the northwest and west sides of the quarry. These activities were few, and just to mix it up, they also were redundant:
We didn't even find a turtle!
People: Urs braved the cold temps to wrangle in one last day of shooting. The problem was: not much to shoot. "I took pictures of mud pies," he said. He'll drive away in the middle of the night for his flight back to Switzerland tomorrow. "It vas gruusig kalt!" he added. Cabin fever wasn't as bad today, since most diggers at least had a chance to go down to the digafter Don made the road passable again. Plus, with food provided by two couples outside of our crew, we felt very cared for. We can't really understand why Jeri and Rob braved the weather to make dinner for US, when Jeri shot so many great photos for the Web site. We should be making dinner for THEM. But we're not complaining. Thanks to them, and to Andy's parents!
Weather: The sky didn't clear, but the rain held off for most of the day. Temperatures fluctuated between 42 and 52, and the new rain storm didn't start again until 5:30 p.m. Don's son Jed gave us the happy news that we are in a region where a tornado watch has been issued. (It's okay, we're just in a trailer that ISN'T TIED DOWN.) But don't worry, during the huge rain the other day, ten inches of hail fell within spittin' distancebut not here. Is there any other weather we need to fit into this two weeks?
Breakfast: The usual. Plus more coffee.
Lunch: It was an afternoon of leftovers: chili, chicken soup, tuna sandwiches, PB & J.
Dinner: Beef stew; fresh, hot crescent rolls (yay!); cherry cheese cake. [Nikki says, "Hi, Mom!"]
Synopsis: Although weather permitted only a couple of work hoursbetween "it's just barely dry enough" and "it's raining again"the crew was able to accomplish quite a little. Too wet to really dig, the main bone mass was nevertheless approachable because it had been left "high, dry, and tarped" in the last couple of days. Therefore, the group undercut, "mushroomed," and jacketed both the block with skull bones, and the end with the tail vertebrae.
This will save a tremendous amount of time tomorrow (or whenever it stops raining), because those sections will be quickly removed. This will allow access to the next two potential blocks for a similar process.
One might ask, "How are the plaster jackets able to dry in the rain?" Because they are covered loosely with tarps, they won't be able to dry completely. But plaster doesn't only dry; it actually crystallizes. Even a wet jacket, if the crystallization process has finished, is strong, hard, and solid. As long as we can get to the quarry tomorrow, we will be able to remove these two pieces and begin on the next ones.
We also still have three turtles to remove from the southwest corner of the excavation. Once the rain stops, we will start on them, too. We will also explore for more bones on the north and northeast sides of the quarry.
The other question is, "What's the deal with bone distribution?" In other words, "Where are the missing parts of the dinosaur?" Pete admits that a review of the maps reveals a confusing ancient depositionthanks to all of those toe bones out of logical position in the quarry's southwest corner. "Let's for a moment assume that their position is an anomoly. Perhaps they were carried there by someone, as opposed to being washed there," Pete explains. "Without them in the deposition picture, everything seems to fall into place. Then, the distribution map clearly indicates a stream flow direction from the south-southeast to the north-northwest."
The way water caused fossils to drift and come to rest away from the main mass of a fossil is part of the study of taphonomy. And understanding the taphonomy of an excavation is the key to knowing where to look for bones that may have migrated away from the main bulk of the fossil. Pete believes that everything not "hiding" in the main bone mass likely will be found in the direction of the stream flow, to the north-northwest. He also acknowledges that because of those weird toe bones, we still have to explore for more bones in the anomolous area.
People: The crew was relieved to be on the move. In the morning, they went to visit Tyler Lyson, the college kid with the turtle reputation. They had good fun talking about fossils, even though it was still too wet to dig any. By the time everybody got back to camp (conveniently at lunch time), enough drying had occurred so work could resume. This was good news for two reasons: everybody could work; and Larry didn't shoot them for packing into the trailer all day.
Weather: It was too good to last. The rain that shut us down last night was still with us today. The skies were overcast; the mist and light rain continued throughout the dayand we had a day off from digging. This caused lots of cabin fever, and way too many people crowded in the tech trailer. Nonetheless, the rain is needed for the dry prairie, the ranchers, and to wash out new fossils. We awoke to temperatures in the mid-40s, and our high was 50.
Breakfast: The usual
Lunch: Nikki knows what to do when children are cooped up on a rainy day. She baked cookies!!!!! She also served them before lunch. This made everyone very wired. She followed this brilliance with chili, veggies, and chips.
Dinner: Lunch again. Without the cookies. They were gone in about five secondsexcept for the tray that fell on the ground and were gobbled by the dogs (not counting the ones that were saved by the 10-second rule).
Synopsis: Today is a day of conservation. We conserved human energy and fossil fuel energy (gas for the vehicles). We accumulated no extra dirt on our bodies (and, in fact, some of us had showers). Music was played; the meaning of life was pondered; snacks were eaten; photos were taken; Pete had a nap; and a good time was had by allexcept the tech trailer staff, who worked just as usual. Sigh. At least they ate lots of cookies.
The only outside work for the day: an excursion to restock our campfire's wood supply.
Inside work for the day: elbowing people out of the skinny hallway that we call a trailer.
People: Matt Seney purchased a movie in town the other day, just waiting for a rain storm. Dan got creative and removed from the tech trailer his video monitor, VCR, and extension cord. He set up the monitor in the doorway of one of the trucks, parked the truck by the fire, and at this moment (while we're WORKING, on geology no less), everyone else is watching "Kill Bill." Sigh.