Plastering the Big Jacket
Well…it’s the end of the road for the 2010 Hanksville-Burpee Quarry fieldseason. The remaining work…which is a lot and a little bit of misery; includes putting the quarry to bed and removing the last of our plaster jackets. Over a breakneck week a few of us DIE-HARDS stuck it out in 90-100 temperatures to get everything ready. One of the more exciting specimens was the articulated caudal (tail) section to a Barosaurus. Barosaurus is a type of sauropods (long necked dino) that is related to Apatosaurus and Diplodocus. The block was trenched, plastered, reinforced with 2 X 4s, trenched more, plastered more ….well you get the idea. Many 9-10 hour days were spent getting the whole site ready. We even had some reinforcements; Cory Schabacker (an old school friend of mine and Burpee Member) and Brad Brown (who cut his teeth at the homer site). Without them we could not have wrapped it up as we (me, Mindy and Katie) were all walking wounded, sporting back backs, hips and fatigue.
Flipping the Big Jacket
Then the final day came when Curtis Whipple (Hanksville Mayor) repeated his role from last year and came to the site with his forklift. After a little situating the forks and straps….the 1000 lbs block rolled like a charm. TEXTBOOK……if I do say so myself. The other side was plastered and reinforced. All the plastered bones were hauled out for storage and we can close the book on the 2010 Hanksville-Burpee Quarry season. Now….its 10 days off and onto Montana to collect more Triceratops, Tyrannosaurs and Cretaceous Crocodiles..oh my!!….now where is my ibuprofen??
Well, our time is growing short at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry. As much as I would like to stay and continue excavating bones at this amazing site, I need to get back to the museum, catch my breath and then head up to Carter County to continue our fieldwork there. I sometimes wish I could clone myself to be at both places at once. Wrapping up a site is fairly unglorious. It involves a lot of trenching, plastering, backfilling, lifting, sweating and so on. Since there are only three of us left, the work gets doubled. We will be putting the quarry to bed until next year. One of the fun parts of this wrap up includes shaking down our new field vehicle. Burpee acquired this “new” vehicle from one of our friends in Hanksville. The vehicle is a 1986 GMC Sierra Classic Suburban….and it is great. It can seat 8 people fairly comfortably and has a ton of trunk space. Decent 8 ply tires, a trailer hitch, made of metal inside and out….just what we need. We have nicknamed it Earl, after Earl Douglass, the famed paleontologist who discovered Dinosaur National Monument. Anyhow, time to get back to work.
Katie Tremaine with Femur
New finds and new finds. As usual, more well preserved dinosaur bones have been found at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry. We have been focusing on a sub-adult (teenage) sauropod called Barosaurus. Barosaurus is a relative of Apatosaurus (although not as stocky) and Diplodocus (not quite as long). Barosaurus had an extremely long neck, four column-like legs and a whip-like tail. An adult Barosaurus might get to 80 feet long, 15-20 feet tall and weighed (in life) about 20 tons. This specimen is beautiful and in some places partially articulated (bones still connected).
For several days, Lab Preparator Mindy Householder has been excavating a partially articulated tail. Near it are the hips, femora (upper leg bones), tibiae (lower leg bones), fibulae (shin bones), ribs, humeri (upper arm bones and some forearm material. I think that we also have some neck material. So needless to say, this is going to be a mountable dinosaur. A rough estimate based on its 5 foot long femur would indicate this Barosaurus might have been 50-60 feet long when it died…..so a teenager??
Rain. Rain for paleontologists can be a good and a bad thing. Without rain, erosion does not take place. Without erosion, new bones cannot weather out to be found. However too much rain can obliterate a specimen over time. So finding a good dinosaur specimen requires just the right amount of rain/weathering and good timing. Also rain can be a good “excuse” to take a few days off.
When doing field work in Utah or Montana, rain can make life miserable. The high clay content in the soils can turn roads to axle grease and make walking a near death experience. the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry is in a basin or bowl, so another concern is flash floods….another hazard to avoid. So when it rains, we retreat to higher ground and pavement. This was the case last Saturday and Sunday, when after several days of 100 degree temperatures a cold front pushed in, dropped temps to the 60s and brought lots of rain.
We drove out Saturday morning to view the road only to find part of it was now a river. We snaked our way about 2 miles in and found new rivers forming, wash rock moving and even a water fall. After getting some cool
pics of the Burpee Crew on one of the water falls, we decided to retreat. More rain was coming and the bowl might fill up. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Arches National Park and Sunday was spent in the LaSal Mountains. So rain can be good (softens up the ground and provides much needed days off) it can also be bad (washes out roads and delays schedules). /sigh.
Willem Dafoe with Scott & Katie
One of the added bonuses of working for Burpee Museum aside from travel has been getting to meet new people. In this regard 2010 did not disappoint. Not long after opening the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry, the BLM told us that a major motion picture was going to be filmed near us and for a few days on the same road we work on. Disney-Pixar was going shoot major scenes for John Carter of Mars. This live action meets CGI movie is based on a Edgar Rice Burroughs series of novels written in the early 1900′s. Needles to say this excited the whole Burpee crew. By pure luck our public tours began as filming was still in our area. Almost immediately cast and crew began coming to the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry.
Betsy Carlson tours with the crew
A couple of the visitors; Paki Smith (art director) and William Todd-Jones (actor-puppeteer) came multiple times and sent more and more crew to us for tours. In a few days we probably had 50-60 visitors from the movie. Katie and I made a quick trip to the Movie basecamp to pass out fliers and promote the museum. As soon as we got there, we were mobbed by people showing us agate, petrified wood and other fossils. We were intoduced to the Director, Andrew Stanton (he also directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E). Andrew was very kind and interested in what we were doing and encouraged everyone to come to the quarry. Over the next few days movie and museum crews became frequent visitors to each other’s “set”. On Sunday, Burpee was “called” to the movie set after eager crew members were playing paleontologist and found dinosaur bones. In between takes Burpee worked on the dinosaur bones found by the crew.
Samantha Morton with Scott & Betsy
We even got to meet actor Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Mississippi Burning, Spiderman) and actress Samantha Morton (In America, Minority Report). Samantha had a real interest in dinosaurs and spent over an hour excavating a rib that was found. Samantha eventually came to our quarry for a personal tour with her family. Burpee crew even made an appearance at the wrap up of shooting. Emails were exchanged and new Burpee Paleontology shirts were given to some of our new friends. It was an amazing experience and now hundreds of movie professionals now know of Burpee Museum!! ……John Carter of Mars opens in 2012! Go see the movie so there will be a sequel and Burpee can be the “unofficial” paleontology crew!!
Volunteers!! Finding dedicated volunteers is a staple for museums of any size. Over the years Burpee Museum has been blessed with many good volunteers. Burpee volunteers fill many roles from assisting with tours, helping in the collections, doing yard work, preparing fossils, moving cabinets or even working in the field. Id like to mention one of volunteers. Mel Jackovich from Dixon, Il has become one of our most relied on volunteers aside from assisting in the collections and preparing fossils, Mel is a bone-digging machine. This year Mel spent 10 days working at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry. In addition to excavating several bones from an Apatosaurus/Camarasaurus bone “jumble” Mel found several new bones including a partially articulated sauropod tail. Mel even went the extra mile and transported about 400 lbs of dinosaur bones back to Burpee. Without dedicated volunteers like Mel, Burpee could not provide the excellent services it currently does. Thanks to Mel and all the other volunteers, Burpee can continue to do things no other museum its size does!!
More bones and bones. The 2nd week of volunteers continues as well as every week were are out here. Bones are found, bones are mapped and bones are excavated. About mid-week, Burpee Expedition Veteran Joe Mongan found a beautiful tibia (lower leg bone). It was in pristine condition.
Joe Mongin With Tibia
We are fairly certain it belongs to a sub-adult Barosaurus we have been collecting on part of the quarry we call Limb Bone Ridge. Joe did an expert job in excavating and plastering this bone. Interestingly, it appears that the cartilage that would have been on the top (proximal) part of the tibia had ossified while the animal was alive, meaning that this bone was done growing. Based on the proportions of this tibia and femur found nearby, I would estimate this Barosaurus might have been 60 feet long when it died. Considering we have front and hing limbs, hips, neck, back and tail vertebra….I am confident that we have a mountable sauropod!
Mel Jackovich with tail vertebrae
Another great day, several articulated bones were found. Burpee Volunteer Mel Jackovich found 7 articulated tail vertebra for a possible Apatosaurus. Finding articulated material is always so cool. It shows that although these carcasses were transported they weren’t transported very far before they were buried.
Also, articulated bones are just neat to see. In addition to the articulated material we have a complete set of hips for our big Barosaurus, two new femora (upper leg bones) and I think Paul Vaitkus has some other articulated material.
Nancy & Bob Moore
Another great day with and endless supply of late Jurassic dinosaur bones waiting for us tomorrow.
Normally, I would post about how awesome this quarry is and how we keep finding bone after bone after bone. Of course it would be true. However this time I really have something to crow about. We have found and collected part of a sauropod skull. One of the WIU students, Megan Luczak uncovered a strange bone.
Scott Williams works on dentary
In a short time I was able to prep off one surface and determine it was a Camarasaurus dentary (jaw) and part of the braincse. This was exceptionally exciting as sauropod skulls are pretty rare. They had huge bodies and relatively small skulls. Hopefully we can find more of this skull in the near future.
One of the most important factors when it comes to a large scale paleontological dig is to have good support from the surrounding community. Over the last few summers Burpee has been blessed with wonderful hosts in the townspeople of Hanksville. A few notables who have given their time and support to us include Mayor Curtis Whipple, Don and Connie Pfoutz, the whole crew a Blondies Restaurant and of course Sue Fivecoat and Buzz Rakow at the local BLM. It seems like everyone is behing making the Hanksville-Burpee a success. In fact, one young man decided to make protecting the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry the focus of his Eagle Scout Project. 18 year old, Jake Finkelstein’s project was ambitious and much needed. Jake planed, supervised and help build a 450 foot fence with two metal gates one the south entrance to the quarry. This fence is made of sturdy pine posts driven 3 feet down into solid sandstone. In addition Jake built a kiosk so that information about the quarry can be posted for visitors when we are not around. This new construction gives the site a more “permanent” and professional feel. It will also make it harder for people to drive vehicles up onto the site and will help deter any bone poaching. Now that tours have started up we have had many compliments. Good Job Jake!