Following on from my previous post “Diggin’ Up Dino’s”; I flew out to Montana on the 3rd. I quietly celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee for the entire 30+ hours that I was in the air which proved to be an interesting experience in and of itself. Despite some minor delays in Toronto caused by US Customs “pre-approval” and a maintenance issue with the Canadair Jet in which we were due to fly. Thankfully unlike Air Ghana’s only aircraft back in 2007 this one didn’t burn to a shell.
I arrived into Great Falls International Airport at about 23:45 that evening and spent the night in one of the many local travel-lodge type hotels within a few miles of the Airport. Travelling from Great Falls to Reading the next afternoon with one of the MOR palaeontologists proved to be both a long and enlightening experience. It turned out that he was an English Ex-Pat named Denver who worked for Impossible Pictures during the “Walking With…” era which gave a fascinating series of conversations and anecdotes.
The first thing to say about Montana is that is approximately similar in area to the United Kingdom, but with a population density significantly closer to the Moon’s. This makes the act of travelling from any one place to another becomes an extended (and fairly monotonous) process – though as long as you’ve got someone to talk to then that’s no bad thing. The Reading field station where the MOR team is encamped consists of a series of tents (now including mine), two or three camper-trailers and portions of small ranch buildings lent by the ranch-owners for the summer.
The single most striking thing to note about Montana is the extreme flatness; shockingly so in fact, there do not appear to be any differences between hills and valleys beyond about 50 metres or so. The one major visible exceptions to this rule being the coulee (a regional name for a dried out river valley) that lies to the north of the Reading field station, and the mountainous region that lies somewhere to the west of us.
Having now been out here for a week and a half I am glad to report that we are approaching the stage where some dinosaur bone excavations will be taking place. I should probably explain some of the features of the site; it’s a small quarry dug into the side of the Coulee not far from the Redding Field Station, the site’s dimensions are approximately 20 meters by 15 meters in the horizontal plane, and about 25-30 meters in the vertical. For the past two weeks (the first two of this year’s field season) the crew have been digging away “overburden” – rock that is stratigraphically higher than the horizon in which the targeted fossil material is entombed. The Targeted fossil material is in this instance a Hadrosaur bone-bed with some associated Tyrannosaurid material (mainly teeth and coprolites).
So we are at present only about a day or so’s worth of digging away from the slow and fascinating process of actually digging up the dinosaur remains. That being said I’ve already had some luck with finding material within the overburden material. So to assay the fragmentary material I’ve collected thus far:
4 parts of a tiny fragmentary Theropod limb bone,
2 x Hadrosaur tooth spitters – ground down Hadrosaur teeth,
1 x Turtle limb bone,
1 x Turtle shell fragment,
1 x Gar Fish Scale,
Several indeterminate bone fragments and
Some interesting plant material – 3 indeterminate deciduous leaves and a probable conifer needle-frond.
The bone material here is an awful lot more obvious than that found around Lyme Regis, however the caveat to this is that it’s a lot more work to find and collect. Being a fossil hunting guide is not in my estimation good preparation for taking part in a full on palaeontological dig, the work is both fun and awesome but it’s taking its toll on my hands and muscles – though I suspect this is by definition good for me. As such the first piece of advice I’d give to anyone considering joining a field programme such as this would be get fit before you go, I’ve got more aches and pains than I care to relate to you my dear readers.
Anywho that’s about all I realistically have time for so I
’ll leave you with a few photographs and* hope you have enjoyed this post!
Ben D. Brooks
*Sadly the Internet here isn’t good enough to upload photos so I’ll add them when I return to the UK!