Thursday, February 26, 2015

Our newest little turtle: Jubal

Apparently TPI is the new home for the small turtles of the Niobrara chalk. We've already prepared, molded and cast our tiny Chelosphargis advena, Prepared a new Prionochelys matutina, and show prepped a nice Toxochelys latiremis that we discovered this past spring, all with nice skulls.
Our Prionochelys matutina specimen from MU5 (Coniacian)

You'd think that we would be content with our fossil turtle stash, but no. You can never have enough of these little guys. This week we prepared from start to finish another new specimen of a tiny protostegid from Kansas.

Box o rocks and bones
Preservation of the bones was beautiful, in nice hard yellow chalk so prep was an absolute joy. We didn't collect this specimen ourselves, which might explain the slightly unorthodox packing method employed in shipping the bones.

Plastron during preparation

While prepping the slabs we discovered many bones that were not apparent when work started. many of these surprise elements were adhered to adjacent bones by a thin layer of the oyster Pseudoperna congesta, making separation much more difficult.

Detail showing much of the pelvis in place

Amazingly, we are 4 for 4 this year for beautiful turtle heads. The skull block on this specimen contained not only all the major head bones, but also most of the hyoid apparatus. A very rare find in animals this small in the chalk.

Skull block before prep

Partly in thanks for helping us determine the identity of this turtle (the uber rare Chelosphargis advena), and partly just because we like him so dang much, we nicknamed RMDRC 15-001 "Jubal" in honor of Dr. Kraig Derstler of the University of New Orleans. For the back story, well you're just going to have to ask him about it.

Profile view of skull after prep

When finished with the prep, we did a layout and were shocked how complete this specimen really is. Next up is restoration, molding and casting so copies can be exhibited in museums and homes worldwide. The specimen is currently displayed in our lab viewing area, so come by soon and check it out before we put it all back together.

This is what a turtle looks like if you crack it open and pull everything out

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Avaceratops layout

If you've been following the progress of our Avaceratops (or something like it) project, you may have noticed a lull in updates, especially after the completion of the reconstruction of the skull about a year ago. This is about to change.

Skull elements present (missing the predentary) Modified image courtesy Scott Hartman
This summer we finished preparation of all the material we recovered from the site, all 170 or so numbered bones plus a good amount of unnumbered things that were discovered deep within the larger jackets during lab work. 

3d model of the skull made using photogrammetry
We had no idea how complete this animal actually was. For the better part of a year the bones were in drawers and on shelves in no particular order, so it never really seemed that impressive.

Bryan and Jacob doing science
Once we laid it out however, we were shocked. This thing really does look like an animal! It takes up quite a bit of space in the "run over by a bus" pose right now, but when assembled, the specimen will be on the order of 13 feet (4m) long, and approximately 4 feet (1.2m) tall at the hips. A cute little juvenile!

Curator for scale
All of the missing bones will either be sculpted from scratch (last option) scanned from the opposite side and printed in mirror image, or be scanned from other ceratopsian specimens and be manipulated in the computer to fit before printing.
Obligatory Ava butt picture.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's Tucson Time Again

Sorry for the lack of updates. We're working on a ton of new projects this winter for an awesome Tucson gem and Mineral show. A few teaser pics, more and better ones as we get closer to shipping the show. Now back to the salt mines.

Enchodus vs. Hamburger-sized turtle

Newest fish

Headbutting Sandy

Cap'n Chuck's back end

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Actual Mosasaurus from Kansas

Mosasaurs in Kansas, no big deal, there are thousands of specimens known. But what about the actual genus "Mosasaurus"? As recently as 1967, Dale Russell's excellent mosasaur book claimed "Mosasaurus ivoensis" was present in the Niobrara. Since then, Johan Lindgren has moved the holotype of that species (from Sweden) into Tylosaurus. The lone Kansas specimen originally described by Williston in 1902 looks to be attributable (to my eye) to existing known Niobrara mosasaurs, most likely Platecarpus and Clidastes.With the loss of the one possible chalk specimen we're left with a sort of sad thought: Mosasaurus didn't exist in Kansas.

Until now.
Excavating the skull parts

This spring a TPI field crew accompanied by famed Kansas Cretaceous expert Mike Everhart came out to Wallace County in far western Kansas at the request of a private landowner. We were investigating a report of a mosasaur eroding out of the Weskan member of the Pierre Shale, immediately above the much better known Sharon Springs member. Hardly any people work on collecting fossils out of the Weskan, so we were excited for this opportunity in virtually unexplored country. The critter, RMDRC 14-015, got the nickname "Wally" after Wallace County, and was brought back to the lab this spring.

Nice flipper
After recovery and prep it was obvious we were dealing with a pretty darn big mosasaur with a skull about 4 feet long, but what could it be? The only reported specimens this size out of the Pierre in Kansas could be Tylosaurus or Globidens. Prognathodon crassartus from "Eagle Tail, Kansas (now known as Sharon Springs) turned out to just be Plioplatecarpus. the premaxilla lacked a substantial rostrum so that excludes Tylosaurus, though its slight nub of one also excludes Prognathodon (known from other Pierre deposits). The teeth are all sharp and pointy, so not Globidens (yes they are pointy in juvenile Globidens, but with a 4 foot long head, it's silly to consider this critter a juvenile). In the end, with the characters we saw, there was only one logical conclusion.
Bite mark on frontal
Yes Virginia, there really is Mosasaurus in Kansas.
Bulky snout
In fact now there are two: We started recovery of another even larger and more massive specimen from the same ranch at the end of October, RMDRC 14-050. More on that this spring when we return to finish the site. The coolest thing is how the specimens display both advanced and primitive features usually assigned to one or another species of Mosasaurus, but not all in one. It's probably a brand new species, which is really exciting for us.

We are currently restoring and molding the complete skull of RMDRC 14-015 for debut at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show this January, in fact the palate it being installed as I type. The rest of the specimen may take a bit longer to restore, but the world always needs more 30 foot long water lizards. And you can quote me on that.
Newest digsite, mainly concretion



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Daspletosaurus reconstruction progressing: Pete III

You know, I think I'm just going to share some pictures as an update to my last blog post. We'll keep the reading part short and sweet. Restoration is coming along well. The skull is up next, and in the meantime we have the leg finished and the arms almost there. Lots more to come over the next few months. It's always good to have new tyrannosaur stuff to play with.

Pete III's scaps and arms

The scapulae were remarkably well preserved in 3D

Left leg before paint

After paint, left leg from the rear

Side view, the leg is HUGE!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pete III makes progress: Molding a Daspletosaurus

It's been a long time, not only since I updated the blog, but since we've had any news about our big Daspletosaurus specimen that we dug up in 2006. Well, that's changing now.

Original and prototyped bones
This is basically an update on a post from a few months back where I covered the scanning and printing process if the leg. To get the project moving along we picked some of the low hanging fruit: finishing the left leg! Since this leg was almost complete (missing just one phalanx and strangely, metatarsal III) the restoration was pretty straightforward, comprising of just crack filling. The digits were molded in gang molds and we produced a mighty fine block of metatarsals II through IV.
Original leg ready to mold

That block as well as the long bones were molded so that they can be loaded onto our spin casting machine, enabling us to make high-fidelity hollow casts (saves a lot of weight) that we later fill with urethane foam for durability.

Cast copy of the left pes ready for assembly.
This leg should be ready for display in about 10 days, so don't forget to come by the museum to check it out.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Platecarpus restoration complete! All hail Cap'n Chuck!

After 8 long years of work, our Platecarpus tympaniticus specimen RMDRC 06-009 "Cap'n Chuck" is finally finished! These last few weeks of the project had been dedicated to finishing the details of the armature as well as packing it for its trip to its new museum forever home. It seems like just yesterday when I was lifted in a freezing drizzle in a Bobcat excavator bucket one October day to investigate a lonely vertebra poking out of the side of a gully wall. Poking around revealed what looked like the rear of a skull, and we decided to come back the following spring to finish the job.
Working on turning a vertical surface into a flat surface

By the time we completed the excavation, we could walk down the debris pile to the gully bottom. We took out multiple jackets since the bone density was so high, working on them in the lab was much safer for the specimen.

Main body and skull block in the Show Prep stage
Once "show prepped" (preparing the jackets to show what is inside of them) we disassembled them and placed the bones in drawers in the Clean Room for safe keeping. There it stayed for years until a customer was found.

Coming together. The white bleached bone 4th from the left is the first bone found
Earlier this year we started restoring the bones for mounting. While we had the bones handy, Cap'n Chuck was molded so copies can be sent to other museums in the future. The mosasaur was incredibly undistorted, the ribs were even round in cross section, unlike the typical Kansas condition of being squished pancake flat.

Dillon (left) vs. Cap'n Chuck (right)


Snakey!
The final result is pretty spectacular. The undistorted ribs helped us get a very accurately shaped torso, with cartilage and even an interclavicle. The skull is beefy and bulldog-like, much different than the lower chalk specimens of Plesioplatecarpus planifrons.
Showing off the pterygoid teeth

Paddle and chest detail
Vertebrae are much larger and more robust than the lower chalk specimens. Surprisingly, the finished mosasaur was a bit shorter in length than we had anticipated, coming in at just over 17 feet (5m) long.



Skull detail