While few of my posts have hit any kind of length in terms of text recently, this is rather set to continue the trend as there is simply not much to tell about this year’s expedition. As with last year, there was a couple of weeks in the Shishugou combined with a short excursion to the Tugulu, cut short in my case first by illness and then a rainstorm necessitating a early departure in case I got stranded.
As noted recently, the Shishugou at Wucaiwan tends to be an all or nothing place: you can go for days without finding more than couple of scraps of bone, but when you do, it can be a whole specimen or even a whole block of specimens. This year was no different, but (for me) one major difference. The person who found the big block of material was me. It is, without doubt, the best single find I’ve been responsible for and as such I’m rather delighted. Naturally most of what we found is still in the jacket and we only exposed various bones to see what was there and how far it extended into the hillside. Suffice to say there is a fair bit of material, and a very healthy (i.e. far too big) jacket was removed with a number of bones in. It’ll probably be a year or two before I really get to see properly what I found, but I’m already looking forwards to it (especially given my strong suspicions about what it actually is).
In the Lower Cretaceous Tugulu rocks I was able to continue my campaign to accumulate dsungaripterid pterosaur material with some nice new pieces including a couple of quite large cervicals which is good. A few more years like this and they’ll be quite a pile of material to work on.
That is about it really, though it’s worth commenting that for whatever reason there was a pronounced absence of wildlife around this time. Few insects and spiders and fewer still reptiles and birds, or even mammals, so I have not a single new photo of any animals out there. The best I managed was a pair of dead jerboas but I didn’t have my camera with me when I saw either of them. In context I suspect there was a harsh winter or a delayed spring and the animals suffered as a result, natural selection in action really. On the upside the weather and night sky combined for some beautiful scenes.
My fieldwork this year has been curtailed by both my upcoming departure and Flugsaurier 2010, but in addition to the resident wildlife, it seemed worth completing a short post on the event. The rest of the crew is out there now looking for dinosaurs and other taxa but I had to return early to talk pterosaurs so there will be more to come from them and I am aware that more things than I saw are already being found and excavated.
Continue reading ‘Xinjiang fieldwork report’
A quick post with some nice pictures of the wildlife of Xinjiang. Much is similar to that of the dinosaur sites at Bayan Mandahu though while the environment is similar and the vegetation comparable in density and type, there were far fewer animals of all kinds. Insects and other inverts were generally rarer and dominated by just a few species. Birds and especially lizards and snakes were also much less common. However there were some real gems and here are a few of them. (Above, female [huge] and male [tiny] nephila).
Continue reading ‘Xinjiang desert life’
Despite my still infact career as a palaeontologist some odd things have already happened to me that I am increasingly having to adapt to as normal – I’ve had dinner with the governor of a Chinese province (him in a DJ, me having come direct from the field), fallen asleep in a dinosaur nest, done a radio interview about a paper I haven’t read, been to meetings where no-one spoke English and I didn’t speak the native language, cast footprints from a road, had my field jackets stolen and had a hundred strong audience for an excavation.
However while many of these things get sprung upon you, you can at least do something about them (usually). This picture sadly does not really convey the difficulty of the excavation but it should be clear that we were excavating a very large jacket. The trouble was that there was a large and very fast sandstorm blowing that filled in the trench as we dug it and blew dust back over the areas we were trying to clear. As a result I retreated to the trench to try and escape the whipping sand and actually clear the dust off long enough to see what it was we were trying to dig up. Memo to readers: don’t try and dig in a sandstorm.
Since I’ve been covering work in the field a bit here I thought I’d deal with the kind of kit that I was taking out every day during my time there. This looks like quite a bit, but to be honest it’s mostly small and light and of course not all of it would be taken every day (I rarely took the shovel out unless I knew I’d need it), and several things are effectively duplicates. It is therefore not exactly a model for others to use when going out into the filed, but should give an idea of what you might need and what you would do with it when out there actively searching for fossils (and not necessarily collecting them, hence the lack of plaster, picks and shovels etc. this is for prospecting, not digging). Of course this is purely the ‘palaeo’ gear and you need to take other things with you according to the conditions like clothing, water, suntan lotion etc. So:
Continue reading ‘Field kit’
I have covered already making field jackets for palaeontological specimens and the unusual practice of making jackets inside boxes. This time out there’s a really odd one, making a jacket in the face of a cliff. Continue reading ‘Wall jackets’
Having now covered things that aren’t bone in some detail, (well more than enough for my tastes anyway) here are a few photos of actual bones in the field. As you can see, at range at least, they can be hard to tell from the various not bones out there and look similar and indeed weather out of the rocks in similar ways and can form similar patterns of the surface. Here then are some scattered pieces on the surface, and a partly exposed Protoceratops skull (after it had been cleaned up a bit) and some dinosaur eggs (the latter as part of a nest I was largely sleeping in before I realised, yes, really).*
*No eggs were harmed in this incident.
So as noted the other day I have now returned from Bayan Mandahu for the second of three expeditions this year into the field (Henan being completed and Xinjiang still to come). This was a three week expedition to the deserts of Inner Mongolia and was largely a repeat of last year’s expedition with a few new sites, and of course some new fossils, thrown in.
As before this was a mixture of prospecting for new sites and localities as well as searching well known sites. Obviously being separated from most of your colleagues for most of the day it’s hard to know exactly what other people have found and how much of it and in what condition, but there are certainly a few mostly complete dinosaurs being hauled out, more eggs and some other associated material.
As with last year sadly I can neither tell you much of excitement or show you anything especially good as a) the really good fossils will be described sooner or later, and probably not be me, sop showing the photos is inappropriate, and b) most of them were excavated while largely still buried so we don’t know if they are great or merely good at the moment.
I can however provide some nice photos of the scenery as I do so here, and I have posts coming on making unusual jackets, the local wildlife (of which there was an absolute ton this year compared to 2008) and more info on general excavations as well as more things that look like bone but aren’t. In short, have some pretty photos and expect more archosaurs and general palaeo stuff soon.
Continue reading ‘Camels, centra and ceratopsians – back from Bayan 2009′
So some judicious badgering on my part of people who were part of the great Limusaurus excavation has turned up a few images. These come courtesy of the great Jonah Choiniere who is working on theropods for his PhD with Jim Clark and has been part of the IVPP field crew for a number of years now. Johan passed these photos onto me to show the block that contained Limusaurus being excavated and shipped out in a ‘jacket box’, my thanks to him.
Xu, X., Clark, J.M., Mo, J., Choiniere, J., Forster, C.A., Erickson, G.M., Hone, D.W.E., Sullivan, C., Eberth, D.A., Nesbitt, S. Zhao, Q., Hernandez, R. Jia, C., Han, F., & Guo, Y. 2009. A Jurassicceratosaur from China helps clarify avian digital homologies. Nature
A modified version of the classic palaeontological field jacket is used only occasionally but is good for shipping very large but potentially delicate specimens. You can only really do this when you have the facility to lift and transport the thing afterwards. Basically you actually fit the specimen into a transport crate and then just fill the intervening space between said specimen and said crate with plaster. The upside of course is that the specimen is very well protected and won’t suffer from bad handling (or much at all short of a direct nuclear strike) and the only downside is that you need a lot of plaster and potentially a crane to lift the damn thing afterwards. In this case we filled the sides and top in, nailed the lid down, flipped it over, filled the base, put a new lid on the base and it was ready to go. Took about four hours to do the two crates between about six people – it was quite a bit of work.
More picutres after the break: Continue reading ‘The ‘jacket box’’
Something genuinely practical for the ‘Practical Palaeontology’ section this time out, making palaeontological jackets. For those who don’t know, a ‘jacket’ is the name given to the bundle of plaster (or other materials) used to wrap up specimens to transport them. Whenever you see photos of palaeontologists working in the filed they are nearly always accompanied by large white blocks of jackets made up to protect the fossils that have been excavated to get them back to the lab safely. They can be time consuming and awkward to make and there is a certain art to their construction. I thought it would be useful for potential palaeontologists to have an idea of how to make these and perhaps be of interest to more general readers.
Continue reading ‘Making field jackets’
I wrote the other day about making decisions in the field and how only luck and experience can save you from mistakes and sometimes not even then. I was specifically thinking of one incident that occurred to me during the recent dig in Henan which I thought I would relate…
Continue reading ‘Bad luck when digging – taking a chance’