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> August 13, 2006 - Breaking Weather Brings News Visitors
post Aug 21 2006, 09:55 PM
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Group: TREC Team
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Breaking Weather Brings News Visitors

Another bad day of weather is upon us and everyone is getting a touch of cabin fever. With each day lost to weather, it is necessary to make critical decisions about the research agenda. The sound of an approaching motor boat drew our curiosity, so to break the monotony, everyone scrambled outside.

It turns out the motor boat was traveling from Umiat to our camp with a documentary film crew. After the newcomers set up their camp, they stopped over to warm up in our tent and say hello. Over the next few days they will shoot footage of Tony excavating dinosaurs from the Kikak-tegoseak quarry. One of the final products will be a NOVA documentary comparing traditional paleontology excavating methods with an unorthodox mining effort.

The dinosaur fossils found in this area of Alaska are difficult to extract. First, work in the Arctic is both logistically and physically taxing. Second, the bone density is so great that removing even a single bone requires great care because there is a risk of damaging adjacent bones. Finally, the bones are extremely fragile because many are severely fractured – presumably due to cycles of freezing and thawing.

Tony’s method of excavation is the same technique used by the paleontologist you see photographs of in old issues of National Geographic. That is part of the appeal of this work – the common experience of all paleontologists. The technique that NOVA will compare to Tony’s tried and true method is analogous to gold mining.

Another team will head to a similar quarry in northern Alaska and blast a horizontal hole into the tundra with mining explosives. This hole will be established above the dinosaur bone bearing rocks. Then, the fossils will be excavated from the floor by cutting them out of the permafrost using a rock saw. The frozen blocks will then be transported elsewhere so the bone can be extracted from the matrix.

The afternoon weather cleared just enough for us to climb the bluff to resume working. The film crew took a few test shots, but had difficulty negotiating the trail to the quarry. Tony gave them an overview of the quarry and pointed out the main pachyrhinosaur skull he hopes to extract before the field season closes.

IPB Image
A potentially intact pachyrhinosaur skull has been discovered. The skull is upside down so the brush in this image is placed on the dinosaur's upper jaw bone. I am pointing to the nasal cavity.
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