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.
Weather: The forecast was partly right and partly wrong. We hope it stays like this for a few days: warm and sunny in the daytime (high of 70 today!); cooler and rainy in the evening. We could see, in this Big Sky Country, as the storm clouds rolled our direction from miles away, and the temperatures suddenly dipped 15 degrees. Sam and Nikki just returned from a fast trip homeand drove through four inches of hail on their way back here. A little of everything in these parts. We'll see how long the satellite dish lasts tonight. Last night we were unable to upload anything!
Breakfast: The usual
Lunch: Cold-cuts or peanut butter sandwiches; chips
Dinner: Burgers; pasta salad; baked beans; fruit salad
Synopsis: Deja vu on the way to the quarry, because of last night's rain. The road was a wash, but because of the drainage that was dug from the last rain storm, the quarry was in much better shape than on Mud Day. However, because yesterday's gastralia had been found beyond the specimen to the north, and within ten feet of the dam, landowner Don and Bobcat operator Steve spent much of the day pushing the dam upstream. Meanwhile, in order to work efficiently, the crew is now divided into the Bone Searching Crew and the Bone Removal Crew.
The Bone Searching Crew is working away from the fossil along the entire western front, and branching north and south. They're using picks, knives, and brushes, carefully looking through all the sediments for any new bones. Today the only new thing found in that mission was Turtle Number 14because the Bone Removal Crew borrowed the Searching Crew for part of the day. During that time, the Searching Crew removed small bones from the north end of the quarry, where there are no concretions and where it's easier to work.
The Bone Removal Crew focused on partitioning and removing the main mass of bones, which measures 28 feet long all together. This process is both similar to and different from the removal of small bones. The similar part includes digging around a particular specimen, pedestaling it, and casting it. The different part hinges upon the concept that defining the "particular specimen" is difficult, since in a situation like this, most of the entire skeleton is interconnected into one giant piece. Therefore, the crew must find natural fractures through a complex puzzle of interlocking bones, and then create giant plaster casts that will support them. If no natural fractures already exist, they must be encouraged in the safest places.
Today the Removal Crew proper began with the end of the specimen containing the for-sure skull bones; we could not find a naturally-occurring fracture pathway between them and the next section; the bone layer is simply too thick. Because of the concretion, we cannot take the "top layer" of bones off; instead we tunneled under a narrow spot in the block. After we cast a three foot square portion, we will then carefully break the block at the seam by undercutting it and allowing gravity to do the work.
The Removal Crew also worked on the section with the articulated tail. Pete used the jack hammer to remove as much concretion as possible. As the group removed the chunks of concretion, they found another chevron. By tomorrow, both ends of the specimen will be ready for casting.
People: A new face! Chris, who left overnight to attend an Eagles concert, has returnedwith Diana Hensley, a photographer and fossil preparator. She's also baby Ella's best pal, and a generally good egg. You'll be seeing her photographs over the next few days. Nikki and Sam, who also took an overnight break, have returned safely. (Nikki had prepared meals ahead for us, like a good camp mother.) On a sadder note, Bob Cassaday headed for home in Wisconsin, and Stunt Digger Steve Sacrison also left. Bye, Bob! Bye, Steve!
Weather: The low was 41, but by wake-up, it was already about 55, although a bit windy. The temperature raised to 70 (!), the sun was out, it was glorious. Then, as it happens on the prairie, in about a half-hour, the wind howled, the temperature dropped, and the rain dumped. Also, the satellite dish was down.
Breakfast: The usual.
Lunch: Tuna and cold-cut sandwiches; chips (Andy remembers that they were dill pickle chips)
Dinner: Homemade chicken soup with plenty of veggies and homemade noodles; sub sandwiches; chips and dip; rex mix - courtesy of Jeri!
Synopsis: Today's mission was "out with the old, and out with the new!" The challenge: going to (delicate) battle with the concretion layer, which measured as much as ten inches thick. So hard that the only way cut into it is with a jack hammer, the concretion is composed of iron carbonate - and it's more dense and harder than concrete. If only the concretion were surely absent of bone, the process would be easier; but there are areas where bone is interspersed.
Once the concretion layer was broken into small pieces or slabs, and then turned and examined carefully, the parts were removed. The Bobcat was needed to move the larger blocks, and lined them up to be broken down with sledge hammers - and examined carefully for fragments of bone. Eric, one of the landowner's sons, got a good start on this tiring project.
The good news is that once the concretion was removed, everyone could move around the remaining material much more easily. The bones discovered from the last few days were mapped, cast, and removed. And new bones were discovered, too. For example, a gastralia, two unidentified rex bones, and two turtles. (Surprise, surprise.)
Pete was finally able to take his trip to the K-T Boundary, the line in the sediments that delineates the division between the Cretaceous and the Tertiary Periods. It's always helpful to measure the vertical distance between a specimen and the K-T, which marks the extinction of the dinosaurs. It's all about time. On the one hand, it was Bia's last day - she really wanted to see the strata up close, and to read the pages of time in the rocks before returning to Switzerland. On the other hand, Pete says that his time machine was out of gas; it turned out that anyone wanting to check out the K-T had to go on a long walk. A long walk, up and down the badlands.
Pete did locate the boundary, and collected a bit of the clay horizon to take back to the lab. "We couldn't stay long in the past," Pete says, "because the rain was coming in the present." And indeed it was.
Tomorrow he anticipates more rain. If the forecast is correct, some of the paleontologists might visit Tyler Lyson and his fossils - indoors. If the forecast is wrong, and the sun shines, more bones will be targeted for removal.
People: The people front was rather quiet today, although in the evening we did lose Bia, the Swiss journalist, who will fly home tomorrow. Jeri Dobrowski chose tonigh, of all nights, t to camp out with us - and since she's a hardy local, she seems somehow unfazed by the weather. Everyone was happy to see the return of Bob the Bobcat, the earthmover who needed a new hydraulic pump. Thank you Don, Dale, and Steve for the expert repair! We couldn't have worked today without it!
Weather: A roller coaster: windy, windy, windy in the first half of the day with sun and temperatures starting at 45 and heating up to 67. Overcast skies and sideways rain in the late afternoon, with temperatures dipping to 52, and then, by 8 p.m., raising again to 57. Go figure.
Breakfast: The usual.
Lunch: Leftover tortellini; cold-cut sandwiches; chips
Dinner: Grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, stuffing with gravy, buttermilk biscuits, corn, salad, and brownies for dessert. We're not kidding; this is really what Nikki made tonight. She should open a restaurant.
Synopsis: The day began with hydrology. In two places, the road to the quarry had grown two lakes from the night's rain. The crew started with shovels, digging drainage on the road and on the specimen, bailing water from the low points. They also removed the tarps to let everything dry out, and then mucked mud. Finally, we applied PVA to the specimen and swept the entire area. The site was especially pristine thanks to Urs, our Swiss photographer friend, who wanted the perfect photo.
Digging didn't begin in earnest until 11 o'clock. Very soon after that, Kirby found his first, and the only, turtle of the day. It was stuck beneath the ilium, a pelvic bone. Several mini-crews worked on various sections of the fossil, preparing them for removal. John and Tyler Lyson (a young local collector, see "People" below) focused on two of yesterday's turtles; Tyler's had plenty of skeletal material with it. Bob and Kirby worked on the metatarsal block. Sam and Pete began trying to find a dividing path across the skeleton, in order to split the main mass of bones into manageable sections. Their mission was to figure out how to remove the front portion, which contains three skull bones and some cervical ribs. Everywhere they dug, they were thwarted by new bones! Clearly, there are at least parts of cervical vertebrae, cervical ribs, body ribs, and (dare we hope), skull bones, tucked in front of the skeleton.
Bruce and Sam Ellison, volunteers who arrived yesterday, were brushing the concretion west of the area where we found cervical ribswhen Bruce came upon some fragments of a bone. Chris had spotted one of the pieces earlier on, but because it is fragmented and visible only in cross-section, we could not identify it right away. After Bruce dislodged another piece of concretion, revealing more bone cross-section, it was easier to see that the bone was not part of a turtle, T. rex limb, pelvic, or shoulder bones. It was not a vertebra or rib. It did, however, have the morphology and vascularization typical of a skull bone. This was enough to cause Pete to elbow everybody out of the way and see what was happening.
Working within a foot of this bone, he quickly found another. This, too, is no turtle (Pete has recently completed Turtle 101). The exact identification of these bones may remain uncertain until they are prepared in the laboratorythe surrounding rock is too hard to chip away safely in the field. But still, yippee! In addition, the discovery of these bones raises the possibility of finding more of the skull.
Right at 5 p.m., we were hit by a sudden rain shower, and had to tarp quickly. The forecast for the next several days is not good, but we are ever hopeful.
People: Tyler Lyson, a paleontology student from North Dakota, studying in Philadelphia, is home for a break. This was absolutely perfect timing, because Tyler has collected more complete turtles from the Hell Creek Formation than anybody in the world. Since this is Turtle Central, we started a new game, "Name That Turtle." Tyler won instantly. Our species is Plesiobaena antigua. Tyler is a local legend, not only because of his turtle expertise, but also because he's found a number of dinosaur skeletonssome of which have skin. He started collecting in the sixth grade, and he found most of his productive sites before he was in high school. Tyler can't hang around with us much on this trip, but we hope he'll return for at least another day. Meanwhile, our other borrowed talentand skull bone findersthe Ellisons, had to leave us. Thanks, guys.
Weather: RAIN DELAY! At first it was just wind and more wind. Simply fine temperatures, starting at about 50 and heating up to 66 degrees. A light afternoon rain had little effect on digging, and no effect on the techno trailerafter its roof leak was fixed. Or so we thought. By nightfall, the rain began in earnest, and the leak (which focused its attention, of all places, on Larry's cubicle and the heart of our operations) became a torrent. Or at least a faucet. Plus, the overcast skies prevented satellite uplinking. We put a water-catcher under the "faucet" and plastic bags over all the equipment. And finally, Larry went to bed. It had been 44 hours since he last did that.
Breakfast: It was a surprise! Pancakes; egg casserole; fresh fruit and yogurt; breads; orange juice, and, of course, coffee
Lunch: Left-over shish kebabs; peanut-butter and jelly, or cold cut sandwiches; veggies
Dinner: Tortellini (which Pete calls belly buttons) with mushrooms and bratwurst; fruit salad; green salad; garlic bread
Synopsis: In the Small Picture, a few more bones were added to the bone list. Most of the action occurred on the north side of the excavation. There, another toe bone was discovered, along with all three metatarsals from the right foot and one of two right tarsals (ankle bones). Two more turtles also popped out of the north end (near the beautiful turtle), making a total of ten. Bone removal began, too, and almost all the digits were mapped and collected.
As for yesterday's disappointmentwith the morphing "skull bones" turning into a turtlePete is again feeling optimistic about skull bone possibilities. "There is so much happening in the big pile of bones," he says. "We're now seeing more than one layer of bones there. But we won't actually see what's there until we jacket and turn the block over." Pete says a great indication is that the metatarsals are going down below the top layer of bones, even below the concretion zone. "We're on top of that on the west," he explains, "and we'll try to pick it apart carefully." The concretion is the result of mineralization at the water table, and whatever the mineral crystals formed around are both encased and protected. The concretions helped prevent Wyrex from eroding away; the concretions also are difficult to remove without damaging bones. Since they vary in thickness and density, there is no single, sure-fire process of cutting through concretionsand finding the bones mixed among them.
In the Big Picture, various characteristics of deposition will assist us in thinking about environment at the time of the dinosaur and its death. The forces that buried Wyrex are helping us to determine where bones are likely to be found, because we gain more understanding about the taphonomythe events leading to preservation. Some important steps:
People: We were joined today by a team of Swiss journalists who are putting together a feature for Facts, a magazine similar to our Newsweek or Time. Writer Beate Kittl and photographer Urs Moeckli will cover the dig, along with general T. rex and dinosaur information for a couple of days. It's fun to hear people speaking languages other than English! Our local friends, Bruce and Sam Ellison, also have come to assist in our digging (they report that after their arrival today, although they dug for hours, no bones were in their departmentyet). In other people-news, it's worth noting that several of our crew have begun signing up for shower shifts. Although Larry did not sleep last night, he is now clean.
Weather: We woke up to 38 degrees, and it warmed up to 56. The sky was overcast all day, and the early part of the day included light rain that stopped mid-morning. It was perfect sleeping weather.
Breakfast: Pop Tarts, flavored muffins, English muffins (toasted in a coffee can toaster), and Granola bars; coffee (Chris drank pop)
Lunch: Tuna fish, cold cuts, or peanut butter sandwiches; chips
Dinner: Nikki scores again with shish kebab and rice; banana cream pie!
Synopsis: After carefully removing the rain shield (a couple of tarps) from the fossil, the crew got to work. Our agenda was to explore for new bones, and to continue uncovering the ones we've already found. Today, turtles were the best of times and the worst of times.
We found at the end of the day the best turtle yet, Number Seven, absolutely pristine, lying on its back, in nearly uncrushed condition. The worst of times occurred when one of our diggers began working around yesterday's "skull bones." This was paleontology in action: these bones were surrounded by hard concretion, so we could really only get a view of the top of the "surangular." But it wasn't a surangluar after all. It had turned into a turtle. Number Eight. Oh, the agony.
Obviously, we didn't dig the "surangular" fast enough, and it morphed into a turtle.
You'll be wondering how we could misidentify a bone this way. Pete says, "We all make guesses as we're uncovering bones. Usually we're right, but sometimes we're wrong." Part of the reason for the misidentification: the turtle was exactly in the position where the skull should have been. Only the top surface of the turtle had been visible yesterday, and it was the same size and shape you would expect to see in a partially-uncovered surangular. It also had a depression in the the correct place, where, in a surangular, a large foramen (hole for nerves) would exist. Do not despair; there's plenty of digging to do, and with the level of disarticulation, parts could pop up anywhere.
In other quarry news, more progress was made. More foot bones were found, including a very, very nice foot clawthe third for the siteand a phalange (toe bone) that lies behind the "dew claw." It looks as if the feet on this specimen are going to be excellent.
There's also a bone that looks suspiciously (hold your breath!) like it could be the humerusupper arm bone, which is special because very few have been found and helps to determine the gender of the specimen. Stay tuned; meanwhile, it's not a turtle. Pete promises.
People: We had guests today. Busloads of kids came from the local school district, but their bus couldn't make down to the site on the road. The 75 kids either walked or were ferried in pick-ups the half-mile from the stock pondbut it was worth it when they got there. After a tour of the site, the kids were able to ask questions, and the questions were excellent. They wanted to know what had caused this particular creature to die, what color dinosaurs were, and whether scientists can tell a boy from a girl. It was a great daymade greater by Bob Cassaday's return.
Weather: Morning temperature was 40, and the day looked good and warm and sunnyreaching a high of 70 degreesthen we experienced our next weather shift. By late afternoon, it was already overcast, windy, and cooler. Warm coats came back out, and the "huddling" posture resumed. We never know what tomorrow will hold, or for that matter, what the next hour will hold!
Breakfast: English muffins! Granola bars, and lots of coffee
Lunch: Tuna sandwiches; cold cut sandwiches; chips and salsa
Dinner: We're not sure how she did it, but Nikki dished up both chicken fajitas and beef tacos! Also, Mexican dip, and even warm brownies for dessert, with frosting.
Synopsis: Despite its being a short day, it was very productive. Twelve new bones were found, and that's four percent of the dinosaur! These bones included: multiple phalanges (toe bones); a chevron (the spine that attaches to the bottom of a tail vertebra); the fifth metatarsal from the right foot; and two new skull bones! These were the other surangular, and what looks like the other prearticular. The skull bones were found near the top side of the pelvis, which is where you would expect the skull to beif the fossil were preserved in the usual "death pose," with its back arched. It appears that the skull is in all probability disarticulated. We hope that more individual bones will surface in the coming days.
We were able to map, cast, and remove two turtles and the famous Sarah Claw. Near the end of the day, the cloud cover became thicker and brought some light rain. Around 5 p.m., we re-covered the specimen with tarps, and made sure the drainage is sufficient to protect against the forecasted rain for tonight. Of course, those of us who live in this part of the west know that the only way to forecast the weather is to go outside and see what's happening.
People: This was the last day of the Japanese film crew's visit. They finished their footage, lamented a bit about the weather, and went on to our offices in Hill City. We know they had a great time, and we enjoyed having them! The crew is in good spirits generally, although a week without running water is taking its toll. People tend to stand further away from one another than they did last week. Also, the field-paleo version of cabin fever has set in: that singular, goofy type of humor has erupted. The jokes are getting worse. We were sorry to see our weekend visitors leave, Sara Booth from the office, and Dan's Lisa and Liam. And the dig crew is depleted with the absence of Matt, one of our dig coordinators. He won't be here all next week, and we will miss him! However, Sam and Nikki returned to us last night, and Neal will return tomorrow with his valued expertise and our valued Bob Cassaday.
All in all, taking a Sunday morning off was good for raising spiritsand the twelve bones were nothing to sneeze at, either.
Weather: A lovely day! We woke up to 40 degree temps and sunwarming to 68! A perfect day to dig.
Breakfast: Granola bars, and guess what? Coffee
Lunch: Cold cut sandwiches, or peanut-butter and jelly, if we prefer; chips and salsa.
Dinner: Ahh, a party! Don and Allison provided a wonderful dinner at their house (details below)!
Synopsis: Today was the first day of mappingthe first official record of the position of the bones. Now that there's room to move, and the general parameters of the deposit are known, actual bone action will pick up. The first step is to stabilize the bones with Paleobond glue and Vinac. This is repeated over and over until the bones are removed to the laboratorywhere it will be repeated again.
Drawing the maps is the second step, followed by cataloguing and removal. It's at this point, once we have the site cleaned, that we can take our first comprehensive series of photographs that give us an overall view of the site. We were fortunate because this specimen is placed in a very scenic area where we have a multicolor, irregular, badlands skyline to the east, and a very well-placed hill that acts as a perch for us to shoot photos.
Overburden removal and the cutting away of the hill with the Bobcat is pretty much completed. However, we'll still need the Bobcat for our motorized wheel barrow to remove waste rock. Unfortunately, the Bobcat is still not well, and Steve will be working on its repair once we can get a new hydraulic pump shipped in. Whatever overburden remains will be removed by hand, because we are now too close to the bone layer to use heavy equipment.
People: Our Japanese visitors remained hard at work, despite what must be wicked jet-lag. Happy and up-beat, they're getting some excellent footage. The star of their program, a young man named Taiyo Sugiura, joined us in digging, and Pete was surprised at his natural talentnot many people can just pick up a knife for the first time and dig well. I later learned that he practices yoga, which undoubtedly helps with his concentration.
Plus, we enjoyed our biggest "People Event" yet: a prairie dinner party! The whole group was thrilled to drive over to the ranch house for fresh Montana beef, potatoes, veggies, cornbread, pie, and cakewith frosting! We felt like we were on the television show "Survivor," and we had all won the food and comfort award. It was fabulous, not only for our bellies, but also for a little bit of socializing. We also got a chance to look at Don's fossil and antique collection. Tomorrow we'll have a half workday, with the morning spent away from the worksite, as a bit of rest and in observation of Sunday traditions.
May 14 - Day 5
Weather: After another cold night, 20 degrees (F), the day heated up quickly. By 8:30, it was nearly 40, and diggers got their earliest start of the trip. The high was in the upper 60's, and people got their first sunburns!
Breakfast: Coffee, granola bars, coffee
Lunch: Cold cut sandwiches; peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches; potato salad; fresh fruit and veggies
Dinner: Spaghetti and meatballs, salad, garlic bread; cherry cheese cake (!)
Synopsis: It's bare bones! All the seasonal jackets were removed today, allowing for a full view of the fossil. Stabilizing of the bones was the first order of business, which included cleaning off debris, gluing cracks, and applying a thin coat of polyvinyl acetate (PVA). This process will allow for safe photo documentation, mapping, and, eventually, final removal. Each day until the bones are removed, the crew will check the cracks and make sure whether another dose of glue or PVA is necessary. At this point, we are pleased with the bones' overall condition, and that they wintered well.
As for overburden removal, the west side of the skeleton was the focus; however, the Bobcat broke down. It sprung a hydraulic leak, so Don and Steve spent most of the day troubleshooting, and attempting different repairs. This story will continue tomorrow.
With a clearer view of the specimen possible now, it appears that the skull may be disarticulated, and that the direction of water flow may be opposite from what is usual in the Hell Creek, which is normally from west to east. As there is a definite wall of bones to the east, beyond which no bones go, this deposit does not fall into the norm. (Except for the bones, there is no direct evidence of stream flow in the sediments, i.e.: cross-bedding, etc.) It appears that this was a chaotic deposition, probably a cravasse splay resulting from a burst levee.
If the river flow was indeed east to west, this is good news because there would be more chance that bones washed from the specimen during the Cretaceous would not have eroded away. They just would have moved to a different position, which is hinted at by the position of Sarah's claw .
The most exciting scientific discovery thus far at this dig was made today. Sarah's brother, Matt, found the first complete wrist bone from a T. rex. It was touching the proximal end of a bone partially uncovered last year, a bone from the left hand (metacarpal II). We're hoping to see many more cool discoveries like this!
People: Today, a Japanese film crew joined us. They will be filming a segment for a television program over the next few days. It's great to have visitors, especially those who are so enthusiastic! Meanwhile, we've lost a few diggers, some for the duration and some for a few days; Victor had to go home, and Bob Cassaday and Neal left for the weekend. On a positive note, Larry's wife, Sara - many of you have been in touch with her at BHI - and Dan Counter's Lisa (and baby Liam) have come for a visit. They chose the right weather!
May 13 - Day 4
Weather: 16 degrees (F) at sunrise, when eager diggers awoke. 32 degrees by 9:30, when we could finally go to the dig. Warmed considerably and cleared through the day, with sunshine and a high near 50 - but temps are plummeting and are expected to get back to the teens. At 11 p.m., it is 26 degrees.
Breakfast: Coffee and granola bars and coffee
Lunch: Smoked chili (this was an accident); sandwiches with cold cuts; fresh (although frozen from our temps) fruits and veggies
Dinner: Bratwurst and cheeseburgers; double-smoked chili (another accident, with not many takers); slowly thawing fruits and veggies; chips; potato salad
Synopsis: We began the day by going through the matrix of the bone horizon around the fossil. Through this process, along with continued overburden removal, we have located the eastern edge of the deposit. Our mission was to try to clear the area for better access and drainage.
We also continued removal of some of the mud from the top of the specimen, particularly to the north, where a pond formed during the winter (and above which the dam was built the other day). Our objective was not to find new bones, but simply to remove mud in an attempt to dry the specimen for further digging. During this process, however, we were able to follow the tail further from the pelvis, and also to locate a chevron and a very nice toe bone - presumably from the right foot. Landowner Don was the discoverer of this cool find!
We began defining the southern edge of the specimen, which was most ravaged by weathering, and located a cervical (neck) rib and a couple more gastralia, as well as a few as-yet unidentified bones.
Finally, we were able to analyze Sarah's claw discovery! Last year, a claw from Wyrex had been removed for safety, and kept at Don's house. He made sure to bring it today, in order to compare it with the new find. We were all surprised: we had remembered the "old" one as relatively small, but in fact it is almost exactly the same size as the one Sarah found. The fact that it was higher in the sediment simply means it washed from the specimen after deposition - but contrary to the crew's hypothesis yesterday, both claws do seem to belong to this dinosaur. It just had some rather large feet!
Tomorrow we will work around the entire specimen in order to get a better image of the fossil. This will include removing the seasonal casts that we placed over some of the bones, which protected them from winter degradation. Exposing those bones, along with mapping any that are in danger of damage, likely will present some nice photo ops over the next few days.
People: It was really fun to work today, because people were able to move around without shivering. Even Larry rode his bike to the site - leaving his computer for the first time in three days. Don's son was kind enough to bring some firewood to our camp, and we had a rare treat - a campfire to keep us toasty. Usually, we can't have such a thing on the prairie - where it's usually dry and windy. Since the wind died, and you all know we've had plenty of precipitation, it was safe. The kitchen staff even brought a dinner table out to the fire!
Weather: It was 28 degrees when we woke up today, with an inch of snow on the ground. The warmest it got was 35, but it continued to snow and sleet intermittently throughout the day. To be fair, there were also moments of sun. They were few and far between - and appreciated.
Breakfast: Coffee, granola bars, coffee, tea, coffee
Tea time: Warm Chips Ahoy cookies; salted in-the-shell peanuts
Lunch: Broccoli, potato, and ham soup; fresh fruit; veggie tray
Dinner: Chili (HOT chili); cornbread; chocolate cake(!)
Synopsis: A.M. The digging crew can't work on the fossil yet. "When it's below freezing, you can cause damage - the rock will freeze to the fossil itself, so parts of the fossil might break off if you remove it," Pete explains. "Also, as water freezes, it expands, and that will blow bones apart. We have to keep everything covered and keep that ground warmth in. It was 80 degrees here the other day, so if we keep the fossil covered, we won't have damage."
The wetness, from snow or rain, is bad - bad for fossils, bad for tools, and bad for diggers. If workers are lying on the ground in bad conditions, they not only feel bad physically, but also emotionally. Plenty of morning time was spent in the trailer.
P.M. After lunch, when it was a few degrees above freezing, the crew decided to finish overburden removal. Most workers returned to the site for two projects. One group worked with picks and shovels, cutting down the bank to the west of the fossil. The other group began cleaning the floor of the dig.
This is when the BIG EXCITEMENT occurred:Sarah discovered our first T. rex bone of the season! It is a fabulous pes (foot) claw. But it caused much more than pure celebration; two facts were immediately interesting, and worth consideration. First, it's in the "wrong" place, on the western edge of the excavation, 20 feet from the feet! Second, it also seems to be a little high in the stratigraphic section. After we cleaned the top surface of the bone, glued the cracks, and covered the surface with Vinac, we were able to really have a great look at the specimen. It seems too large for Wyrex! All of these facts brought the obvious question to mind: does this toe claw belong to Wyrex, or to someone else? More on this tomorrow.
In silly news, we found two more turtles in the layer immediately above the dinosaur, raising the number to five. This brings us to our last question for the night: is it possible that more than one T. rex was here, playing a rousing game of Hacky Turtle?
Indoors, it was also blustering all day. Larry has been having big technical difficulties with the satellite uplink system, and when he was on hold with the technical support person, the phone quit. With his usual tenacity, he finally succeeded in figuring out this mass of machinery and wires. YAY LARRY!
Finally, the trailer has become a palace. Don brought Larry a tall stool to sit on. Yesterday he made the heater work. The day before that, the lights came on. Today, Don and his brother, Dale, brought jacks and leveled the building. It no longer sways with the wind, and has gone from dilapidated, to rustic, to renovated, to decadently luxurious. YAY DON!
Temperature: 38 degrees (F)
Weather: Very windy, mist and rain, overcast skies.
Breakfast: coffee, granola bars and coffee
Synopsis: Despite poor conditions, work has begun! The crew is happy to see that "Wyrex" has weathered the winter well. Last fall, the team had covered the specimen with plaster and tarps, and today was the first time anyone laid eyes on it since.
Earth is being moved with a Bobcat - both to clear space for working, and also to screen for bone fragments. Because it's so cold and windy, no bones can be removed, however. "It's just too cold to jacket the bones," Pete explains. "The plaster won't set up in these temperatures. Since snow is forecast tomorrow, by nightfall we'll cover the specimen again with tarps, just in case." Hopefully, the sun will come out (or at least the temps will rise) so that this group can get moving!
The up-to-the-second news: at 5:20 p.m.: Pete has just returned to warm his toes. He says they've found two more turtles above the T. rex. That makes five so far! And everyone's ready to hunker down for the storm. Wyrex is all bedded down for the night.
The good news is that Nikki is along on this trip - and she's keeping people well fed and warm. Great soup for lunch! Since the work can't progress very quickly with the weather problems, we've got the "waiting disease." Diggers are cold and standing around; Andy wanted to use our generator's energy playing video games! Still, everyone's very happy to have shelter that is more than ten degrees warmer than the outside temperature. But even inside in the "office," we're wearing our winter coats and hats.
Temperature: 45 degrees (F)
Weather: Very windy, the sun moving behind a cloud as we approached the dig. As the evening approached, an electrical storm developed in the distance, and we experienced a little sprinkling at camp.
Breakfast: granola bars and coffee
Synopsis: The first day. The crew arrived in two caravans, and everybody got to work. Part of the dig crew set up camp - the "chow van," the big tent where people gather for meals, and general unpacking. Another group went directly to the fossil - where it lies in the base of a badlands formation gully (Neal calls it "eroded mudstone"). In order to protect the fossil from the effects of rain, Don fired up his tractor in order to build an earth dam that will divert water away from the dinosaur in case it rains.
Once Larry and the Web site crew arrived, assembly of the satellite dish, solar panels, and all the computers began. This part was a challenge, and we are fortunate to have the use of a very rustic trailer on the property - a true luxury in the field, and necessary protection for all the equipment!
As far as the human element, it got so cold that everyone clustered in the chow van and the computer trailer. Our host spent plenty of time wedged into a corner in the trailer, trying to figure out the electrical wiring. Like most ranchers, he can really do anything - mechanics, utilities, animal husbandry, agriculture. In the end, he got the lights on, and Larry got the equipment hooked up. Tomorrow Larry will add more electrical flexibility, so we can work from the generator or from back-up batteries that are fueled by the sun. By nightfall, we were a little worried about Dan, the video guy, and one of the two Matts. They're camping in tents, and we were wondering if the tents would just become balloons and fly away - with or without their occupants!
"Wyrex" was found on a private ranch. Out of respect for the landowners' privacy, we will not be releasing the location, name of the ranch, or the name of its owners until near the end of the dig. Meanwhile, however, we can still relate the basics of Wyrex's discovery.
Don and Dan were working one Spring day a couple of years ago, when they noticed something. Don nudged the something with his boot, and asked, "Hey Dan, what's this?" Since both figured it was a bone, but neither knew what kind exactly, Dan brought it to Black Hills Institute to identify. Once Pete confirmed the bone as a T. rex toe, he said, "Go find the rest!"
Nobody thinks Dan needed this encouragement; he would have gone back anyway. And he did. Not far from the original toe bone, parts of the pelvis, both legs, and tail were awaiting discovery. From just this much information, Institute scientists realized Wyrex was worth not only excavation, but also this Web site.
These were the first clues: