Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Cretaceous Parks of the Colorado Plateau: the story of a Dino-Dig wraps up

Continuing the story of our 1994 dino-dig, in which we learned the truth of uncovering new scientific knowledge. We were re-opening the quarry where the raptor Deinonychus had first been discovered. After nearly a week of hard digging we were approaching the bone layer, but work was pre-empted by a heavy rain and hail-storm that drenched the area. We had found nothing to speak of, but in the days that followed the storm, bones began to appear.

Our first effort to actually discover bone involved Karma Craig, whose previous efforts had netted us a near tornado, scorpions, rattlesnakes and deer-van collisions. Knowing of his power, we got him to say the words "I wonder what it would be like to find dinosaur bones?". His Karma was strong, and later that day he stumbled over some tail vertebrae (second picture) of a Tenontosaurus, the large iguanadon-like plant-eater that appears to have been the main prey of Deinonychus. Soon after, another member of the party found an odd boulder that turned out to be the carapace of a turtle (third picture; the matching half of the carapace was later found to be already ensconced in the Museum of the Rockies). I had walked past a pile of rocks for a week before it occurred to me that we were in mudstones, and that rock chunks shouldn't be there; they turned out to be the bones of an anklyosaurus relative. And several members of our party wandering on the other side of the gully found a partial Deinonychus claw and numerous other scattered bone fragments (fourth picture).

Meanwhile, the diggers had reached the bone-level of the main pit. Tensions were high as the professionals climbed in with their dental picks and brushes and went to work. What would come to light? Whole skeletons of Deinonychus locked in a death embrace with their victims? Well, no, we didn't find that; we found a single claw, which fell to pieces upon exposure, and was lost. But that's what happens, I guess. We were quite thrilled with our other discoveries.

Just the same, there was one more discovery to be made in our last days on the site. That story follows soon!

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