Monday, December 23, 2013

Dino dig III

In late November, I took my students Blair, Kimi, and Kathleen (and Blair's archaeologist girlfriend Tash) on a trip to the Eastern Cape to dig up a new dinosaur specimen. 

The dinosaur had been discovered by local farmer Selby Vorster's herdsman, and in a previous attempt to dig it up we realized that more people and more power tools were necessary to complete the job. This time we resolved to get the beast out of the ground. 

My crew were joined by Dr. Billy de Klerk of the Albany Museum in Grahamstown, his preparators Armstrong and Lindikhaya, and his best volunteer Leo. 

All of the following photographs were taken by Kimi during our trip.

Our first order of business was to "check-in" to an abandoned farmhouse that a local farmer allowed us to use for the field project. Oops, this is just the barn.

This is the real farmhouse, which we quickly dubbed the "Murder Ranch".

From the state of the interior, I'm sure you can see why.

Still, with some clever broom construction by Tash and a little TLC, we were able to put together a nice little homebase for ourselves.
Notice the bed without the sleeping bag. You can guess who's that is...must have left it in Johannesburg.

We soon set the mood with some lighting and a few drying pairs of underwear.

The murder ranch's indoor plumbing was not entirely functional, so we dug ourselves a beautiful little long drop. And then another long drop. And finally a third long drop.

We also improvised ourselves this cozy braai area.

When we'd left the site last May, someone had stolen the femur, so we'd covered the entire area in a foot of topsoil with help from a roads crew working nearby.

With a little help from the ladies on the trip (okay, it was mostly the ladies), we quickly uncovered our fossil. 

I was getting quite a workout supervising (and enjoying the incredible view pictured below)

As Kimi shows you here, once we removed all that loose dirt, we were happy to find that the fossil was undamaged and un-further-pilfered after its interment. 

Next order of business: get those power tools out!

We both rock-sawed and jack-hammered a much much larger hole around the fossil so that we could remove it a few larger pieces.

Local farmer and retired journalist Ben Maclennan joined us for a few days in the field and asked insightful questions of the crew for a piece he wrote in the Barkly East Reporter.

Meanwhile, the ladies were plastering up the dinosaur for its ultimate removal...

And finding awesome things like this theropod tooth:

Here's where we stood after day 3

Day 5:

Day 7:

and finally, Day 8:

Meanwhile, in the next valley over, veld fires were burning seemingly everywhere. This one is close to the Mountain Shadows Hotel.

Despite the fires, nights were COLD! We quickly ran out of wood, necessitating some removal of local vegetation. Note that a rock saw is not a viable means of producing kindling (nor is Billy's axe).

Luckily the fearless leader had a foolproof solution.

Once wood concerns were attended to, we managed to cook over the open fire, using the locally popular "potjie" pot. Blair has mastered the art of making curry in it.
Later in the trip, rain forced us to improvise an indoor cooker (here with Leo and Billy supervising).

All the dusty work required daily bathing. The local river had a couple of great spots.

...but the generous folk at the Mountain Shadows hotel also let us take a warm shower on two occassions. We repaid the favor by having a few snorts at their well-appointed bar (and were joined by Selby and his wife Marguerite).

The last day dawned looking like this:

but luckily we had finished our excavation, so we piled into the pickup truck and drove around the area collecting plants for Kelsey.

Billy's prep crew is hard at work pulling out dinosaur from the rock, so we'll know if we have a new species very soon!

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