10 tips for working in the field you won’t get anywhere else

I have seen plenty of field reports, heard plenty of tales over a drink or two, read numerous books and have done plenty of ‘wild’ travel myself. However, in terms of specific advice about working in the field, here are 10 things that were never mentioned and  wish they had been. So reader, I hereby impart some words of wisdom, that those who follow me do not fall into similar traps.

1. Never walk through a filed of cactuses in shorts*. Perhaps more specifically, ask your colleagues if you are going to a cactus field, before chosing to wear shorts for the day.

2. Don’t let the drivers move the cars when you are in the field without telling you.

3. If they do, don’t then believe the directions of your colleague as to how to get back to the cars. Especially if he is walking in a different direction at the time.

4. ‘Tomorrow’ can mean almost any point in time in the future (including in ten minutes, and never) but this definition will not actually include the next day.

5. Don’t take a bathroom break in view of a ‘friend’ with a ‘sense of humour’ and a telephoto lens.

6. Do not drink baiju if at all humanly possible at Chinese banquets. If you have to, try and make a student drink it for you. Much safer.

7. Don’t let your driver run himself over. Yes, he really did. No, I did not think it was possible either.

8. If you think the bit of bone you just found is exciting, it’s probably worthless. That scrap you threw away though probably belonged to a new species / genus / family / phylum.

9. “Just below that funny layer with the thingies in” does not count as a record of the horizon in which you found your specimen. Apparently.

10. Never defecate in the desert during a sandstorm. You will either get sand in the ‘front’, or the ‘rear’, or both, no matter which way you face. This is bad.

As many must have guessed, despite the jokes, pretty much all of this has happened to me, or was witnessed by me in the last month or so between filedwork in China and Mexico. I am sure people can add plenty more. Seriously, anyone would think you just turned up and pulled the damn bones out of the rock…

* NB My North American readers, shorts have a different meaning in the UK.

11 Responses to “10 tips for working in the field you won’t get anywhere else”


  1. 1 Graeme 16/09/2008 at 1:42 am

    Ran himself over, eh? Not the first person to do this, but perhaps not quite such a hilarious tale as this one:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-358451/Harvey-blames-potatoes-bizarre-car-accident.html

  2. 2 Zach Miller 16/09/2008 at 4:31 am

    Very fun, sir. Tragic, in a way, but funny. ;-)

    So, um…what do YOU think shorts are? Because I think they’re very high-cut pants with elastic waistbands.

  3. 3 David Hone 17/09/2008 at 12:24 am

    Shorts for us are simply ‘short pants’ wheras I believe the US call shorts what we call ‘pants’, and we call trousers what you call pants. Got it?

  4. 4 neil 19/09/2008 at 3:51 am

    Since when was it humanly possible to not drink baiju at a Chinese banquet?

  5. 5 Darren Naish 19/09/2008 at 4:26 pm

    What’s wrong with drinking baiju? I had some at your flat in Germany and I was fine.

    Oh, wait a minute…. [memories flood back (hazy, distorted memories)]

    Oh, crap. I’m sorry for everthing. We’re still speaking right?

  6. 6 Darren Naish 19/09/2008 at 4:27 pm

    Or, ‘everything’, even.

  7. 7 neil 20/09/2008 at 6:26 am

    Re: colloquial lower-body clothing terminology (since I think it’s important to clear this up),

    It seems “shorts” really has an equivalent meaning on both sides of the pond, these days anyway. Most Americans will assume “shorts” means “a short pair of pants(trousers) that is worn as an outer-garment.” At least this is the case in California (and Alaska it seems).

    A few generations ago, when it would be unusual for adults to wear such a garment, “shorts” may have meant underwear. Today however, you would need to specify “boxer shorts” (or just “boxers”) if you were referring to an undergarment, despite the fact that boxers wear their shorts as outerwear.

    When Judd Nelson sneered “eat my shorts” in 1985′s Breakfast Club he was no doubt implying underwear. By the 1990s however, the meaning was ambiguous enough to be tolerated as the catch phrase of an animated 9 year old on prime time television. I doubt the censors would have allowed Bart to say “eat my underwear” directly.

    Note that as James Brown will tell you, the shortest of shorts are, paradoxically, known as “hot pants.”

    Shall we parse “fanny pack” next?

  8. 8 David Hone 21/09/2008 at 4:36 am

    Darren, yes *we* are still speaking, but Í can`t speak for everyone else that night! ;-)

    And it is possible to avoid the stuff with care, panache, and bald-faced lying. Or, as Xu Xing demonstrated, you can jsut give it to your students.

  9. 9 William Miller 23/09/2008 at 6:19 pm

    Was the driver OK?

    And as for the bits of bone, I remember someone posting on a Tet Zoo post a year or so ago a “guide to identifying tetrapod scraps” that went roughly like:

    “If it’s Cenozoic, it’s Chunkotherium.
    If it’s Jurassic or Cretaceous, it’s Chunkosaurus.
    If it’s Triassic, it’s Chunkosuchus.
    If it’s earlier, it’s Chunkerpeton.”

  10. 10 David Hone 24/09/2008 at 2:07 am

    Yes, he was fine, no injuries at all (I would not have joked about it otherwise), just a ludicrious situation that came about by his complete inability to think and act rationally.


  1. 1 The dangers of palaeontologial research « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 05/04/2009 at 11:52 am

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