New Solite excavation

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Paleontologists have an interesting relationship with quarry operators. By their very nature quarry operations destroy fossils and their geological context. And yet, by exposing new layers of rock quarrying operations lead to the discovery of new fossil deposits that might otherwise never have been found. The two most productive vertebrate fossil sites in Virginia, Solite and Carmel Church, were both discovered as a result of quarrying operations.

In the case of the Solite Quarry, mining operations have recently increased and now encompass the unique insect bed that VMNH has been excavating for many years. In an effort to preserve as much of the deposit as possible, National Geographic has provided a grant to VMNH to conduct a salvage operation at Solite.

After arranging for access from the new quarry owners we began our salvage operation last Saturday. A VMNH crew, accompanied by Andy Heckert and a group of Appalachian State students and by Paul Olsen (who originally discovered the insect bed) made a quick survey of the site and began removal of the remaining insect bed and the overlying sediments.

In a salvage operation like this one, we’re not actually doing a lot of processing in the field. We’re trying to get to the insect bed as rapidly as possible and take it back to the museum, where we can examine it in detail. That means we don’t actually see that many fossils in the field, and we use rather large tools to excavate the tiny Solite insects:

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We did find a few somewhat photogenic specimens, including this plant fragment:

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…as well as a possible large fish skull:

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We’ll continue excavating the Solite deposits through the coming month at least. Thanks to Ararat Rock for providing access to the quarry, and to National Geographic for providing funds to make the excavation possible.

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