Posts Tagged 'fieldwork'

Discovering dinosaurs in the field

I’ve already written a bit about the fieldtrip to Alberta from this Autumn that I led from Queen Mary with a team of colleagues and undergraduates where we had a great time and found some great stuff. My friend and colleague Rob Knell was with us as pseudo-official photographer and he also had video capacity with his cameras so took plenty of footage and has now edited this together to make a brief video to show off what we did. This has been put together in order to  promote the course and show future students what the trip is likely to involve, but it should be of general interest to those who have not seen Dinosaur Provincial Park firsthand and what a better idea about hunting dinosaurs.






Dinosaur Provincial Park 2014

The Musings has been quiet again in part because I have changed jobs / cities yet again, but also with a general wind-up towards the start of teaching. This is now my third year at Queen Mary, but more importantly for me, I’m finally teaching on a course I have specifically created with a colleague and so can really get to grips with an area that interest me in particular. And so a new course on taxonomy and systematics has come into being and a core part of this is actually a fun hands-on practical, namely hunting down, and then identifying, remains in Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta. Yep, for some reason the university trusted me to take a team of undergraduates out into the wilds of Canada and the Tyrrell even sent along a couple of people to help collect what we found (we had an explore, but not collection, permit).

Naturally much of the discovered material was very fragmentary and unsuitable for collection (not least by the Tyrrell’s exacting standards since they are buried in teeth and partial skeletons and don’t care too much about isolated verts or longbones), but this didn’t mean it could not be identified. Picking up key skills in identifying characters that can be used to unite things into groups, or split them off as different is a fundamental basis of taxonomy and key to identifying possible characters for systematic analysis, so it’s an excellent introduction into some practical skills on that side as well as the more obvious aspects fundamental to palaeontology and indeed good science (data collection, archiving data and specimens, access to material etc.).

Even so, there were some great finds. We were supposed to have four days in the field but bad weather restricted this to little more than two (though knowing the weather was coming, we pushed hard with long days to maximise the good ones, so we didn’t loose too much time over all), but we still put a dozen specimens into the Tyrrell collections (both research and teaching) including teeth of dromaeosaurs and troodontids, some ornithomimosaur elements, and best of all a hadrosaur skull. The latter was found eroding out of a cliff and while the lower jaws were going and most of the teeth were out, the rest seems to be in the hillside (with probably a decent bit of postcranium)  and this has been flagged for collection next fieldseason.

As this is the first time we have run this, there were inevitably some teething issues, but I’m delighted to say the feedback from the students has been incredibly positive and they really enjoyed both the fieldwork, the Tyrrell itself and interacting with the academics present on the trip (Musings collaborator Mike Habib also made the trip up and joined us). This is hopefully the first of many future trips as this should be an annual component of the course, so hopefully for me, I’ll have a nice source of material for future posts every year. Meantime, here’s some views, the hadro skull, some tyrannosaur teeth and turtle plastron.

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My thanks to all on both sides of the student / staff divide for all their efforts in making this such a great trip for all concerned and I’m really looking forwards to the future of this course.

Xinjiang 2011 fieldwork report

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.

Xinjiang fieldwork report

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’

Xinjiang desert life

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’

The things that happen to a palaeontologist

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.

Field kit

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’

Wall jackets

IMG_4566I 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’

Bones in the field

IMG_4527Having 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.

Camels, centra and ceratopsians – back from Bayan 2009

IMG_4515So 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.

IMG_4530As 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’

OK one last bit of Limusaurus

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.

Theropod block 2Theropod block 3Positioning the boxXu, 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

The ‘jacket box’

IMGP3041A 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’’

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