Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Digging a tyrannobutt

We're back from Montana waiting for the temperatures and fire danger to die down for a bit. Earlier this month though we were battling the gnats working on excavating a dinosaur I found late last summer.

Can you spot the site?

The site is pretty typical for how I find them: about halfway up a 30 foot cliff with a menacing hoodoo overhanging the specimen. I found this site about 2 days before we broke camp last year so I was only able to do the smallest of evaluation digs on it.
Bones on either side of an erosional notch: usually a good sign

 Using air tools I was able to notch out a few of the bones. These were clearly large theropod bones, one looked like a caudal vertebra and I couldn't tell what the one shooting straight into the cliff was. Big theropod in the Judith River formation means one thing: Tyrannosaur! I knew I'd be coming back for this site in 2017.
Duckbills. It had to be duckbills
Additionally at this site was a big wad of predepositionally broken ornithischian (most likely duckbill) bones under the tyrannosaur material. This gave the impression of a stream or oxbow lake bottom assemblage, but sometimes you find good skeletons mixed in with all this material. Unfortunately with fall closing in, I had to abandon the site till 2017.
Storms are no fun in vehicles that lack roofs and windshields
This year however we came out with our big jackhammer and managed to notch out a decent sized evaluation pit. I wanted to get a better feeling for what was present before I suggested getting a bulldozer out there to knock down the whole cliff.

The isolated tyrannobutt
Turns out, it appears it was just an isolated tyrannosaur sacrum with one dorsal vertebra still attached. Not pretty now, but once I prepare it we will see better the shape of the specimen. I'm thinking Albertosaurus, but it's hard to say from this element.
Closeup of the spines. Bonus duckbill chevron at top left

It's a bit of a bummer that there wasn't more of this skeleton. It was going in towards the head but it was just not meant to be. I'm happy to find this now before we invested time and resources removing 15 feet of really tough sandstone from the area though. Guess I'll just have to spend the rest of my summer looking for more dinosaurs. It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it!

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