Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Well, I was told to find a Pteranodon

So I did. Jacob and I were scouting a few weeks back in some nasty hard more vertical than not yellow chalk between Marker Units 5 and 7. We were finding a whole lot of nothing except for blown out Cimolichthys bodies and some random Xiphactinus/Ichthyodectes parts. Not even a shark tooth to be seen. We were getting frustrated and I was busy entertaining myself picking up Martinichthys coprolites.

We had shifted into "Don't look where you don't want to collect" mode in the really steep stuff to avoid having to excavate 7-12 feet of chalk overburden like when I found the Platecarpus "Cap'n Chuck". Walking up a narrow gully it expanded and flattened out a bit, and I mustered the gumption to check out the outcrops closely. Nothing... Nothing... Martinichthys poop... weathered Cretoxyrhina tooth... Oooh Pterosaur wingtip!
Mmmm bones

I checked out the face of the outcrop and saw bones poking out on a single horizon for 4 1/2 feet. It was definitely a dig. Unfortunately it was a dig in the hard vertical yellow chalk, with 6 feet of overburden, located about 200 feet away from the nearest place we could pack in heavy tools and equipment.
Looks crunchy, but the bone is in beautiful condition

Jacob and I decided if we wanted to get this out of the ground sometime this year, we'd have to get the handy-dandy electric jackhammer down to the site. We set the generator up near the truck and daisy chained every single extension cord we could find together. Stretching them all out, we made it to the dig site, with only about 6 feet to spare.

A whole lot of topography
We used the power equipment to dig down to within 2 inches of the bone horizon. There was no splitting layer at the fossil so we had to carefully explore the perimeter of the excavation with chipper hammers and xacto knives. We found fingers and toes, legs and wings, and even some hints of super delicate skull material. We jacketed the slab and spent the better part of an hour climbing and hauling the 200 pound jacket out of the badlands.

After prep. Lower jaw running l to r under humerus. Lower unprepared area is full of metatarsals/toes
Back at the lab I began preparing the critter.Everything came out well, and it turns out we have about 50% of the skeleton, including a mostly complete lower jaw. The humerus measures 19cm, putting the total wingspan at 4.56m, or 15 feet. This size puts it in the range of a medium sized male of Pteranodon sternbergi. No giant, but still an exciting fossil

Quickie bone map of what is present

I decided to give it the nickname "Val" after my wife, since she pretty much made it clear I had to. A pretty hellish dig and packout, but the specimen is well worth it.

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