Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bigfoot from Wyoming: The largest dinosaur foot found yet

Hey! I published on something, 18 years after I started the paper.

The awesome scientific article is here on PeerJ's website, open access for anyone to read and download. As far as I can tell, it's gotten almost 8000 reads so far, so not too shabby! I also did a companion blog post for them where you can read all kinds of information on why exactly it took 20 years from discovery to publication. Short version of the story: I got a job and it wasn't a huge priority to me.
KUVP 129716 "Annabelle". Bigfoot was found under the tail.

As someone that has to self-fund all my research projects, publication costs are a real issue. I wanted to go open-access as I think making another company richer by giving them the fruits of my labor (on a public specimen) is kinda wrong, but there are some expenses in order to publish it properly. I simply don't have the free cash to do that.
More brachiosaur material from the site, me for scale.

Then came February. I had already assembled a small team of experts to finally move the project along, as I was getting tired of constipating science. Emanuel Tschopp and Femke Holwerda were Team Europe, and David Burnham and Myself were Team Kansas. We had no idea where we would publish but we had already begun preparing measurements and basic text. PeerJ surprisingly had a special promotion for their 5th anniversary offering to waive publication costs for articles submitted during that month. That was an offer too hard to pass up, but could we do it?
Archaeopteryx gawks at the metatarsals

The writing crew huddled over Google Hangouts and assembled a pretty decent draft in just 2 weeks (!!!) complete with figures for submission. Femke referred to it as "Rambo Writing" and I don't think it's too far off the mark as a description. We submitted it and waited.
Making the model of the MT IV

In a few weeks we heard back: Accepted with minor revisions. Minor except we had to refigure all of the original bones. So off I went to Kansas with Triebold Paleontology Inc's Artec Spider scanner and 3D render rig. Not included in the paper (but existing) are complete 3D models of every bone on this foot. Contact KUVP if you need access for research, I think they came out pretty well.
Completed model of MT II

After that, things went pretty well! We resubmitted and it was just a very short time between then and it coming out to the world. Press was also pretty kind (though they kept referring to me as "Dr." and thought it was a footprint instead of an actual foot). Heck, I made it into Newsweek! Pretty wild.

In the news(week)!
Why didn't we say it's definitely from Brachiosaurus? Simple: No Morrison Formation Brachiosaurus specimen has ever had any pes material recovered with it, so we didn't have any overlapping elements to compare with. Could it be Brachiosaurus? Sure, even probably, but we simply don't have that smoking gun just yet.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The little Thescelosaurus that could

The Hell Creek Formation is so much more than just Triceratops and Edmontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex. There, I said it. I head out there to swelter and dig nearly every summer, and it's truly not the big famous dinosaurs I'm interested in. This is where Jonathan comes in. This specimen, RMDRC 06-007, was collected over a decade ago and sat in our collections partially prepared for most of that time. Coincidentally it's a specimen of Thescelosaurus neglectus, the "neglected marvelous lizard" and the name sure fits. 
Partly prepared in the jacket, tail and right leg in other places

In the spring of 2017 we decided we needed to do something with the specimen. Jonathan was mostly articulated in a large heavy field jacket. The first step was to get all the parts into a state where we could mold them, so lots of careful preparation, and lots of consolidant was required. Jonathan was a large (by Thescelosaurus standards) and old animal, but the bones were still preserved with the insides like coffee grounds, ready to pour out in a pile of disappointment if the bones were even looked at the wrong way.
Right foot after prep and restoration

Any damage was stabilized and repaired as we worked. Missing parts were scanned with an Artec Spider structured light unit and we printed them out using our Form2 SLA printer and the usual PLA filament scribblebots. Molding was quick and straightforward for the most part, though the chest cavity posed a special problem for us. The chest cavity preserved a series of calcified intercostal plates between the ribs, which only start to solidify when the animal hits a ripe old age. These super delicate features prevented us from molding a set of ribs that could be immediately used on the cast, so instead we molded them all as a whole unit, cast them, then modified the casts to fit on the mount, then remolded them. Straightforward, right?
Posterior dorsal vertebrae

Assembly was pretty easy as well, though at nearly 14 feet long we were always remarking on how surprisingly big this animal was. It's huge clod-stomper feet came out very well, and since we had calcified cartilage with the specimen, we thought it would be dumb not to include it on the finished mount. In the end we came up with what I think is the very best and most scientifically accurate reconstruction of this poor neglected animal ever attempted. I hope you all like it as much as I do.
Finished mount, Grace for scale

An unusual view highlighting the cartilage

He just looks so dang HAPPY!