You don't have to be a guy with a lab coat and a bubbling Bunsen burner have a Eureka! moment. Apparently, you don't even really have to be looking.
Today, the AP reported that several ATV riders discovered a sandstone dinosaur trackway in southern Utah - by riding over it.
According to the story, the site has an extraordinarily large concentration of footprints:
"The tracks were laid down across dozens of layers of rock, revealing a geologic record like the pages from a book. They include tracks of a sharp-toothed and clawed carnivore, a three-toed crocodile and a large plant-eating species."
Like the coprolites found at the Museum's site in Seymour, these footprints are another kind of trace fossil that helps scientists figure out prehistoric behavior.
The site is now closed to protect the trackway.
Friday, November 30, 2007
You don't have to be a guy with a lab coat and a bubbling Bunsen burner have a Eureka! moment. Apparently, you don't even really have to be looking.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 11:31 AM
Monday, November 26, 2007
(c) Dr. Robert Bakker
Dr. Bakker was the lead paleontologist on the paper that described this new species, and gave it that fabulously evocative name: Dracorex hogwartsia, literally “The Hogwartsian Dragon King.”
(Dracorex comes from the Latin word draco, for dragon, and rex, for king. Hogwarts is the name of the fictional school of magic that Harry Potter attends in the ubiquitous series of books and movies.)
It's part of a fascinating National Geographic cover story about "Extreme Dinosaurs" - represented by fossils of several new species flaunting huge spikes all over their bodies, bizarre double rows of fins along their backs or strangely elongated hands that recall the fingernail people always popping up in the Guinness Book of World Records. And the same question applies - why? How do they possibly function like that? Check out this link for photos, illustrated reconstructions and fascinating theories.
The nearly complete pachycephalosaur skull was discovered in 2003 and excavated by amateur paleontologists Steve Saulsbury, Patrick Saulsbury and Brian Buckmeier in the Late Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota. It was later donated to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
So, does the name fit? What do you think these dinosaurs used all their funky features for?
And for all you Harry Potter fans, here's what J.K. Rowling had to say back in 2006, when the name was announced:
“The naming of Dracorex hogwartsia is easily the most unexpected honor to have come my way since the publication of the Harry Potter books! I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small (claw?) mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs. I happen to know more on the subject of paleontology than many might credit, because my eldest daughter was Utahraptor-obsessed and I am now living with a passionate Tyrannosaurus rex-lover, aged three. My credibility has soared within my science-loving family, and I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker’s paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur, which I can’t help visualizing as a slightly less pyromaniac Hungarian Horntail.”
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 5:23 PM
Monday, November 19, 2007
David Temple shows Graysen Conklin how to excavate inside a jacket. The secret? Go very, very slowly.
The bones they found on the surface are actually on the bottom of this jacket. So, the "top" of the jacket is actually the deepest part of the geologic layer. Still, David found a Dimetrodon humerus almost right away.
A close-up of the Dimetrodon humerus uncovered on Saturday.
Over 400 got a peek inside the jacket, made dinosaur masks, toured the exhibit halls, learned how to polish minerals, checked out 3D topographical maps and dug through all that dirt from Mineral Wells. They'll continue excavating the Dimetrodon jacket at The Woodlands Xploration Station, and you can see what else they find right here.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 11:06 AM
But I live three hours away from the nearest full-time science museum.
So I think, "I’ll be just like that teacher in the movie, and I will gather up my students after school. I will load them up in any vehicle that will carry them, and we will drive three hours to the nearest educational facility that I can find..."
But most of my students work, have practice, or have a ball game after school that I can’t pull them away from.
So, I think, "I will be like that teacher in the movies who can at least show her students such fascinating things in class that they won’t need to leave it…"
But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go, don’t know who to ask, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that cares.
Do you feel my pain? Do you, too, know the feeling of reaching out into the darkness of unavailable supplies, unattainable consent-of-release forms, and lack of advice in general? In my one and a half years of teaching, I had decided that I was a one-man band, and that I could not give my students the learning experiences that I wanted to give them.
But I was wrong.
Maybe you teach in a city where there are museums and nature centers less than a class period away, or maybe you are like me and teach where you are the only chemistry teacher for an entire county. It doesn’t really matter where you live. There are outreach programs everywhere that are waiting to cross the thresholds of your classroom. You can find out about these programs from a number of sources, including your local education service center, museums, nature centers, and even colleges. All of these organizations depend on an interest in education, and therefore are generally more than grateful for an opportunity to build strong, interactive ties with educators and students. There are even a number of ways that you can use a single outreach program to meet all of your needs.
Many organizations, such as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, have programs made specifically for educators, so that we can learn more about a particular subject and then take our knowledge back to our classrooms to be incorporated into exciting lesson plans.
I, myself, participated in HMNS’s week-long teacher program this past summer. Understandably, not every teacher has the option of participating in a week-long program, but even participating in one museum (or other organization) event for an afternoon can give you ideas about new lessons, labs or even stimulating classroom decorations. With each event or workshop that you participate in as a teacher, you are not only gaining knowledge and skills, but also, and perhaps more importantly, you are building connections with people. These people are the ones who are going to be your most valuable resource – most have a great deal of teaching experience, so they know what kind of materials and information will be the most useful and efficient for you. When you can’t take your kids on a field trip, these will be the people who would be glad to bring the field trip to your kids. When I wanted to work fossils into a lab I was doing in chemistry, David Temple was there to tell me where to get the matrix, and Chris Flis was there to tell me how to design the lab. When I couldn’t take all of my students out to a real dig site, HMNS brought the dig site to my room.
Junior Shelby Winter examines a possible Xenacanth coprolite in her science class at Seymour High School.
You don’t have to be teaching in a wealthy school district to bring your students incredible learning opportunities. There are people out there who can bring the field trip to you. You don’t have to be an expert in entomology, astronomy or paleontology. Share your classroom with people who are. You don’t have to feel like there is no one who can help you grow a productive and challenging school program. There are people out there who are waiting, who are reaching out to you to join hands in changing your students’ lives.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 10:22 AM
Friday, November 16, 2007
If you'd like to see for yourself, you can check it out tomorrow at Dino BONE-anza! at The Woodlands Xploration Station from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m, where they will open the jackets to work on the fossils inside. David and Chris will both be there to explain what's coming out and how they are preserving the fossils, and to answer your questions. David will also settle his dispute with Neal over whether a certain coprolite is actually a just an interesting rock by prepping it tomorrow as well.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 2:10 PM
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Of course, it's not all natural beauty. You have to look out for some things.
And how's this for comforting? I just heard a story on the radio, quoting a passage from one of Theodore Roosevelt's writings, in which the future president witnesses a young girl get bitten in the leg by a rattlesnake. She falls to the ground, screaming, at which point the rattlesnake bites her again - in the neck. She died.
Rattlesnakes do not mess around. Neither should you.
Lots of people understandably - and probably wisely - recoil from the spiders, snakes, centipedes and the other creepy things crawling around, over and through the fossils, David has a surprising affinity for them.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 6:24 PM
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
"Our entire experience of digging on Wednesday and Saturday was awesome. On Wednesday, we found a lot of dimetrodon leg and rib pieces, and a lot of teeth. Also me and Tarrington established a new dig site. On Saturday we went and dug at the K2 site and found several teeth, along with a few Seymouria backbones. Then me and Tarrington went and prospected a new hillside and found a few bones and a massive vert. Also at K2 we found a couple of arthropod tracks.
After lunch we came back and helped map the terrain around K2. Then for the rest of the day, Ms. Beck, Tarrington and me prospected new sites. It was a really cool experience and I learned a lot from it that I will always remember."
"Saturday morning was fun, we found many things including lots of teeth. We also found what we thought was a piece of Indian pottery, but it turned out to be a huge vertebra. Saturday afternoon we learned lots about mapping the rock layers, and indentifiying the different bones."
His favorite experience on the dig was when he "found a rock that looked like a little bowl over by K2 and then we found out it was a vertebra."
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 8:42 PM
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
As it turned out, a lot. Like, 95%. Including the very fragile braincase - which is essentially a natural cast of the inside of a skull that shows the shape and size of the brain. One that survives intact, like this one, is incredibly rare. As Dr. Bakker said while looking for it, "this is like doing brain surgery in a feed lot" - because what they were looking for is very fragile, and it was preserved in an area currently being used to graze thousands of cattle. Cattle that don't exactly watch where they step.
There is a lot at this site to protect:
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 5:39 PM
Monday, November 12, 2007
Day 1: Hear Dr. Bakker explain the first day's surprising discoveries at the K2 site - as well as where the fossils are from, how they are excavated and what it all means.
Day 2: In the first video, David explains just what it is that he's looking for in that tiny, tiny ditch he's making. In the second, Chris and Kathleen discuss what's been found so far at the Aimee site - and what the team expects to find as they dig further.
Day 6: In the first video, watch as a 500-pound block of earth is moved so the fossils inside it can be taken to the Museum for study. In the second, see how far the Aimee site has come and hear what each of those bones are, as well as what they expect to find in the next few days.
Day 7: What would it be like to have a Dimetrodon named after you? Find out as site namesake and discoverer Aimee Taylor discusses her find with Kathleen.
And, in case you missed it, there is more video fun here and here.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 6:27 PM
Sunday, November 11, 2007
A tooth. In place. In the jaw. What looks like possibly the ENTIRE upper jaw.
Man of the Hour: Our friendly, neighborhood front-end loader driver, Gary Coltharp - who was kind enough to donate his time and equipment to the cause, and help us get two very heavy jackets out of a very inaccessible site.
Johnny and Kathy excavate the Amy site today.
Dr. Bakker surveys the entire site at the end of today's dig. By half of the hill is gone. Foil covers the jaw discovered today, as well as several fossils that have been mapped and removed from the layer. It's amazing to compare this with the site a week ago.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 6:42 PM
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 6:18 PM
Saturday, November 10, 2007
UPDATE: In this video, the team flips a 350 - 500 pound plaster jacket that contains multiple Dimetrodon fin spines and vertebra, still in place as they were buried. It will be transported back to the Museum for further study.
Very large, fully rooted Dimetrodon tooth found in the Aimee site. This is further evidence that the team may find a jaw or skull further into the site.
They also found evidence that this layer might extend under this entire hillside - Shirley uncovered the end of a fin spine about 5 feet away that extends into the hill towards the site where the team is digging. As Kat and Kathleen dig into the right side of the site, they're finding that the soil is turning to caliche, rather than the blocky clay that the bones are coming out of. This indicates that they have either come to the end of the bone bed on that side, or, that the layer is tipping downward.
The Ground Movers in action - in this image, you can see the entire chunk of hillside that has been carved away to reveal the Amy site, along the bottom.
By the end of the day, this site had yielded 4 more big vertebrae; 3 new neural spines; the giant humerus and two new teeth. And the fin spines just keep going into the hillside. Can't wait to see what comes out tomorrow.
The excavated Amy site, about four times larger than it was when first uncovered on Tuesday.
UPDATE: Chris and Kat talk about the Amy site excavation and what they've found so far, as well as what they hope to find in the next few days
Tarrington and Jacob also came back today to work with the team - and found five new possible sites in the area surrounding the main dig area. They worked the K2 site, and found "K2 Jr." at the very bottom of this slope - a site with several Seymouria vertebrae and anrthropod footprints in the surrounding sandstone.
Tarrington holds a tiny tooth he found at the K2 site today.
Jacob holds a Seymouria vertebra at the new "K2 Jr." site.
It turned out to be a day of new discoveries for everyone - just before we packed up, the ranch-owner came over with a huge Dimetrodon toe bone, found in a nearby creekbed.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 8:40 PM
Friday, November 9, 2007
This site was uncovered from just one clue - a tiny rib bone in the lower righthand corner. The site extends further to the right, and most of the lines of bones extend further into the hill horizontally. In addition, it looks like each horizontal fin spine is roughly the same distance apart - increasing the likelihood that this is all from a single Dimetrodon.
Since the original discovery of this site on Tuesday, the area producing bones has roughly quadrupled in size. Today at the Amy site, Chris, Kathleen and Kathy uncovered 2 new full Dimetrodon fin spines, each of which is continuing into the face of the hill; two new partial fin spines that look like they will be complete when fully excavated; another tooth from the mystery animal that we theorize to be Dimetrodon loomisi, the "cheetah of Dimetrodons"; a small vertebra; and this:
Because they keep finding teeth with roots - indicating that they were lost after death and not while eating - the team suspects they may have a jaw somewhere in the Amy hill. It's exciting, but you have to reign it in sometimes - as Kathleen said, "It's a learning experience. You have to be patient. You're desperate to clear off all the dirt, so you can see the whole bone, but the dirt is often what is holding the bone together."
In one instance today, Chris found two lines of fin spine bones criss crossing each other, meaning the team won't be able to uncover the lower line of bones until they get it into the lab - which could be weeks, or even months away, depending on how soon they can return to work on the site. It can be maddening - but always exciting.
Neal, Shirley and Kim Beck dig into The Site That Wasn't. Towards the end of the day, Kim did locate some tiny Xenacanthus teeth, a tiny vertebra, a bunch of fish scales, a few little amphibian limb bones and skull fragments and shark cartilage.
Of course, Shirley insists that they did find something: "We found places where there aren't any fossils. That's valuable information. It's very useful for mapping the site as a whole."
David mixes the plaster to soak the burlap and spread over the jacket. It's a delicate art - you have to get each of the ingredianets just right. Too much salt - and it dries before you can get it on. Too little, and you're stuck with a soggy jacket.
They're adding fresh burlap, which is coated in plaster, and reinforcing that with...more plaster. According to David, "this is going to be the tiger tank of the plaster-jacket world." They may also add wooden boards for extra support, and they're currently debating the best way to get this 350-pound behemoth out of the site - which is at the bottom of the hill.
SHS junior Shelby Winter examines a possible Xenacanth coprolite.
Tomorrow, they're expecting lots more of the Dimetrodon to pop out of the Aimee hillside. Check back tomorrow to see how this site continues to come together.
Posted by Houston Museum of Natural Science at 7:47 PM