Yep, yet another fieldwork post. This one's a bit overdue, but I thought it was worthwhile sharing anyway.
Last August, my friend Roger Benson came to Johannesburg to do some fieldwork in the Elliot Formation near the small Eastern Cape town of Lady Grey. Roger and I were in the Gobi desert together, and the title of this post refers to something that one of our superiors said - in effect, every field trip should 'build the legend'.
Previously, we'd met some friends that run a fantastic bed and breakfast down around Lady Grey, and we knew they had dinosaurs on their farm. What's more, we knew that area had some volcanic deposits, perfect for getting an absolute age of the rock layers (and hence the dinosaurs in those rock layers) Nearby, in the town of Dordrecht, our farmer friends Ben, Hannie, and Nellie had also found some good fossils on their farms. So together with my grad students Blair and Kimi, we went down to check it out.
It's a LONG drive down to Dordrecht, a small town in the Eastern Cape Province. You can see that winter was still in full force - sunny skies, 65 degrees (F), and low golden grass everywhere.
Our first stop was my friend Ben's farm, a charming old place that he fixed up himself, including building a solar-powered outdoor shower.
Just outside of Ben's house is this typical old farm cemetery. I've shown you pictures of these things before, but the intimacy on these farms between life and death is quite striking.
As the sun was setting on the first day (after a solid 10 hours of driving), we pulled into our destination, Hannie and Nellie's cousin's place. This is the view from his backyard.
This is the outdoor tub and shower, but because it was winter I never built up the courage to use it.
Next morning we were up early, surveying some nice looking outcrop. I'm standing on a seriously important piece of sandstone - this is the boundary between the Molteno Formation (famous for its fossil plants) and the Elliot Formation (famous for its fossil dinosaurs).
Blair (behind the rock), with farmer Hannie's help, had previously found some good fossil material, and we started a fairly serious excavation. Here Blair and Roger lift a massive stone out of the way...
...and Kimi mugs with my jackhammer.
Within a couple of days, we'd opened a serious hole in the ground, and isolated some pretty nice fossils.
These sort of windmills (funnily, the most common brand is called "Climax") are ubiquitous in the Karoo and are used to pump water out of wells. I've climbed this one to have a peek at the mechanism that drives the pump.
Here Blair is getting the fire just right to make chili in our field potjie. Some of the nights were extremely cold (32 Fahrenheit!).
From left, Blair, Kimi, me, and Roger on one of our last field days near Dordrecht.
A fairly good haul for a week's work - a new quarry and a few blocks of rock containing fossils. We'll be back again this year to excavate the rest.
From Dordrecht, it was off to our friend Vlok and Cora-Mart's farm near the town of Lady Grey. We'd visited them the year before and they said they had some dinosaurs on the property.
This magnificent animal is a Boer greyhound - one of two that Vlok and Cora-Mart use to hunt rabbits and control jackal.
They kindly let us use their quads to go prospecting (although Roger and I decided it was safer on foot).
Among our finds - this dinosaur bone perfectly preserved in sandstone...
A low flat area just crawling with dinosaur bones (look closely)...
And this unimpressive fellow, which is actually crucially important because it's a volcanic tuff - an ash layer that allows us to determine the age of the rocks.
Here's Kimi showing just how hidden the volcanic tuff layer was.
Roger and I going over the day's collecting at Vlok and Cora-Mart's bed and breakfast.
We were joined in the field by my colleague and friend Zubair, a sedimentologist at Wits. These guys are watching with jealousy as I "build the legend" by engaging in what we like to call "Feats of Strength." The first event was a log toss.
Second event: Lift Zubair's car. This resulted in catastrophic bumper failure.
Final event: whiskey toss. A poor idea that resulted in catastrophic whiskey failure and nearly cost us one of our trip participants. Legend built.
This is the view from the top of Vlok and Cora-Mart's farm. Not bad at all.
After prospecting Vlok and Cora-Mart's place, we branched out to other farms in the area to look for dinosaurs. It was lambing season, so this was pretty fun.
And at one or two places we had some luck. This is a piece of dinosaur limb sticking out of the gravel. We didn't have enough time to excavate this, but we'll be back next year.
Our last stop were some outcrops near the town of Lady Grey, which like many Karoo towns has a sandstone church at the center and is tucked up against the hills.
While in the town , we were instructed to talk to the "Dinosaur Lady," who turned out to be a retired teacher with a strong interest in geology and an impressive collection of fossils and rocks that looked like fossils.
Here we are identifying some of the nicer pieces in her collection.
And here I am enjoying a little break from prospecting by ruining the seat of my pants sliding down the hill with the Dinosaur Lady's grandson.
Our final stop was the township next to Lady Grey. The Dinosaur Lady had taught in the township school, and inspired many young people (now grown) to walk the hills nearby, looking for fossils. We saw a nice little collection (all catalogued on long-term loan from the National Museum in Bloemfontein), and talked to some local dinosaur experts. Next year they'll join us in the field.