Amateur paleontologists for a day...

(le même texte en français se trouve dans la section après les photos)

Dig-for-a-day at a dinosaur fossil site rich with bones of Triceratops, Allosaurs, Sauropods, and so on. It's a great treat to be in the same high mountainous sedimentary rock area where these animals lived almost a hundred million years ago, in what was at that time a tropical rain forest. A few shots from our trip, summer 1999. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center has been open since 1996 in a rich fossil bed. One of the most interesting sites is an allosaur feeding site, replete with signs of a nurturing familial behavior - both adult and baby teeth, lots of footprints, and the bones of a number of prey animals. The soil of the area, having been squeezed, mixed, and stirred over the years has become a sort of concrete, much harder than the surrounding sedimentary sandstone.

The site is owned by a group of paleontologist-type people who discovered the fossil area high in the mountains. Rumor has it that they wanted to buy the small acreage of fossil work from the owner, who wouldn't sell just that small parcel, but who would part with the whole ranch - all 70,000 acres or so. So they did.

We made our reservations by phone about a month in advance, then showed up early on the date of our dig. The four of us plus a group of another five people got a briefing on what we'd find, then we all piled into the Jeep Cherokees and Jimmies and were driven up the mountain by our guides. We got our first glimpse of the site way off on the other side of the valley - the blue tarps indicated where work was under way.

Each group that arrives undertakes a little more of the work, much of which consists of keeping the site clean of dust and rubble. As each stone layer is broken, one often finds little black streaks, the indication of plant life. The streaks closely resemble bits of charcoal, both in color and consistency, and they smear black as well. Not being paleobotanists, we kept on looking. Finally we found the brown coloration that indicated BONE. Occasionally the negative of the bone would fall open (just like the negative represented by the mould from which a clay pot is made). The bone itself is very fragile. Our guide had several plastic squeeze bottles of the equivalent of "Crazy Glue" to keep the pieces of bone together. Working among a number of bones made for close quarters, and it took all our attention to keep from accidentally stepping on a bone while working in another section of the site. Usually the bones were labeled with either "White-out" bearing an inked number or at least a piece of aluminum foil to mark the spot.

We were shown a piece of rock, about the size of a good slice of apple pie, upon which was a black hour-glass shaped spot - half of a fossil, it turned out. Our guide asked us to keep an eye out for the other half of this item. Someone in a previous dig had moved the rock, making it almost impossible to figure out where in the site it had come from. The four of us slowly and carefully worked with our chisel and hammer, with our paintbrushes (for cleaning the site) and dustpans (rubble is dumped into an unused area of the site). My hand turned over a rock and voilà - there was the other half we were looking for - my contribution to science for the day.

A family can participate at $250 a day, an individual at $100. All equipment is provided. Just bring appropriate clothing and plenty of sunscreen. Our guide wore a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and a wide-brimmed hat, since he works every day at 8,000 feet under the blazing Wyoming sun. We opted for tee-shirts and shorts.

 

Mom is a kindergarten teacher - her class loves dinosaurs too!

 

Finding oneself among bones that were fleshed out 80,000,000 years ago, living, breathing, eating, fighting... an unusual opportunity, to say the least.

 

En français

Venez creuser pour la journée à un site riche en fossiles des Tricératope, des Allosaures, des Sauropodes et ainsi de suite. Quel plaisir de se trouver parmi ces hauts rochers sédimentaires où vivaient ces animaux il y a presque cent millions d'années, dans ce qui était en ce moment-là la forêt tropicale. Voici quelques clichés prises lors notre voyage, pendant l'été 1999. Le Centre Wyoming du Dinosaure est ouvert depuis 1996 dans une partie du Wyoming riche en fossiles. L'un des sites les plus intéressants est un site d'alimentation d'allosaures qui comprend des signes d'une conduite familiale chez ces animaux, par exemple des dents - et des adultes et des jeunes, et les os d'un nombre des animaux de proie. La terre de ce site, après avoir été piétinée pendant si longtemps, est devenue une sorte de béton, dont la dureté dépasse les pierres sédimentales juste à côté.

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