We’ve finally reached a point in the excavation that I’ve been dreading. Although things started off a little slow, we’ve been gradually finding more and more bone. The problem is that these bones are wedged in and around the newly-discovered boulders, and that make removing them difficult.
Usually when we find an area filled with bone, we wrap a plaster jacket around the whole block and take it back to the lab to prepare. That way the bones take as little punishment as possible, and if there are fractures the relative positions of the fragments are preserved, making it much easier to repair the bones.
The boulder field is wreaking havoc on our usual methods. All of these bones are wedged between or laying on top of boulders that in some cases weigh over 3/4 of a ton. In the narrow gaps between the boulders the bones are stacked on top of each other with no way to get under them.
Besides the lack of working space, an iron cement that groundwater has deposited in the weathered zone has fused much of the sediment into a hard crust, and in some cases has fused the bones to the boulders.
With the situation such as it is, we really only have one viable option: we have to break the bones and take them out one piece at a time. This doesn’t mean that we start recklessly smacking the bones with hammers, but we are having to intentionally break the bones in a controlled way, remove the pieces, and the glue them back together (or at least stabilize the broken edges). We started these removals this afternoon; below is part of a lower jaw that was removed this way. Most of the cracks are original, but one of them, plus the broken edge on the left, were made when I pulled the bone out.
This is a painful way to recover fossils, but it’s really our only option in this particular part of the bonebed. We’ll continue with these removals over the next few days, and hopefully recover all the exposed bones before we have to shut down the pit this weekend.
We were also visited today by Rowan Lockwood from William and Mary and Karen Layou from Reynolds Community College. Rowan found a strange bone laying on the surface in a different part of the pit:
I haven’t been able to figure out what this bone is, and I’m not sure it’s a whale. Suggestions are welcome.