Thursday, February 14, 2019

Project Kevin Part 1: Field and Lab Work

The astute social media observers among you may have noticed our new ceratopsian whose skull restoration was just finished in time for its debut at Tucson. Here's how we got it there in 2 parts. Today: the hot and nasty work.
Yep, that's hot
The site was originally discovered in the summer of 2017 by one of our landowners, rancher buddies and all around good guy Larry in the upper Judith River Formation of central Montana. We located a partial humerus, a lot of ribs and several vertebrae exposed on the erosional surface right away. The entire deposit was constricted to about 15cm (6 inches) of highly concreted sandstone, and from the exposed highly eroded elements we could tell it was from an ornithischian of some flavor. Odds were it was probably an incomplete scattered duckbill in fairly difficult to work matrix, so we decided to keep scouting and come back later.
The site is very remote but also gorgeous
That later turned out to be the summer of 2018. It was hot. Really hot. Continued scouting in that area turned up some pretty neat lag deposits but not a whole lot of good skeletal material. It was time to bite the bullet and see what the old duckbill site was going to give us. Who knows, there might be a skull in there.
Digging begins. We love our shade tents.

Sometimes we get visitors to the site

With 4 people digging we made some good progress on the first day of the dig. Around lunchtime I had moseyed on up to the top of a nearby bluff to get cell signal to call home to the boss and give him an update on how we weren't finding anything great out there and might relocate our scouting locality to somewhere closer to camp. Coming back to the site I ran into Jacob who was looking for me to let me know we had "the weirdest duckbill he's ever seen" in the quarry.
That ain't no duckbill horn.
Grace had found a brow horn.
Lainie demonstrates proper air hammer technique.
So, not a duckbill (though to be fair we did find some scattered hadrosaur material at the site). We dug more that week finding much more skull material, but had to come home for resupply and other projects. We got smart during trip #2 and brought out some diesel powered earth moving equipment as the overburden went from practically zero to nearly 3 meters very quickly. Again more skull material was found. There was some postcrania too but we all know that ceratopsian postcrania is pretty much worthless, right?
Bobcat good, getting hit by 2 dust devils in a row bad for shade tents
After the 3rd trip, the bone was very sparse along all edges of the excavation and we were pretty confident to call the dig finished.
Headed home with a load of jackets. Rock Chalk!
Lab work began right away. There were a few tricky bits getting the nasty concretion off the bones but for the most part they came out looking pretty good. Once cleaned up we got a much better idea of what parts of the skull we had (field identifications are always tentative). It also became pretty obvious the skeleton was trampled by other very inconsiderate dinosaurs way back in the cretaceous, as we had many broken bones with no parts to go back with them.
Right brow horn, missing some parts, but we can fix that.
Bone quality was pretty good and we ended up with most of the skull, quite a bit of the neck, some dorsal vertebrae and ribs, and curiously a random chunk of pubis.
Detail of jugal edge. Beautiful bone texture.
Stay tuned for the next installment where we show how we went from a pile of bones to a completed skull restoration in 100 easy steps!