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.