Friday, November 30, 2007

Utah ATV riders aren't the only ones making tracks

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.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Naomi, Giselle...Dracorex?

(c) Dr. Robert Bakker

That's right - Dracorex hogwartsia joins the cover-model ranks of Giselle, Naomi and Kate in the December issue of National Geographic.

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.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's in that jacket?

In case you're wondering what's in those jackets the team brought back from Seymour, but you couldn't make it to Dino BONE-anza! at The Woodlands Xploration Station last Saturday, here are a few photos:

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.

David also worked on prepping that funny-looking rock that just might be a very cool coprolite. He's using pressurized air to clean away the softer dirt surrounding the fossil.

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.

Kim Beck - Within Reach

I have dreams of being that teacher in the movies that stands before any and every child, and through incredible eye-opening, (not to mention TEKS-correlated) field trips, transforms every student into the bright, enthusiastic students that I knew were there all along. To be this teacher, I need to come up with that amazing trip that will grab my kids by the shoulders and turn them all into passionate students instantly…

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.

I might add that the more you stay in touch with an organization, the more they will remember you when new programs or events are developed and are available for you to work into your new and improved classroom. If you stick around with an outreach department long enough, you can probably even begin to develop your own program for your school, as I got the chance to do, with their enthusiastic support and guidance.

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.

Let them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Dino BONE-anza!

If you've been following the blog for the past week or so, you've seen all the cool bones the team's uncovered. But what's inside those jackets they pulled out?

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.

Prince of the dinosaurs. A teenage T. rex on display at The Woodlands Xploration Station.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hey, slow down! There's some nature on top of those fossils!

Though we've spent most of the dig focusing on creatures that are long dead, we also enjoyed the surprisingly numerous beautiful, living creatures and sights around the site.

The wide, Texas sky just goes on and on. We were lucky to have weather like this all week. It makes you realize how little of the sky you actually see in the city - but in Seymour, it's everywhere. You can't miss it. And at night, the stars...well, they just inspire this amazing, lasting sense of dumbfounded wonder. It's a sight that simply can't be captured by a photograph.

Oddly, most of the people on the team harbor at least a small crush on insects in addition to their passion for paleo - manifest most intensely in David, who is constantly on the lookout for new specimens he can take back for the live insect collection at the Museum. Seeing insects like this one up close, just walking around, going about their business in nature, is a totally unique experience.

A collared lizard is a rare sight - and it's even more rare to catch them gaping on film. These little guys have a lot of personality and they are so cool to watch.

These thistles look like someone literally dipped them in purple ink. As they're the only color more vivid than tan on this entire landscape (actually, Mineral Wells, about 100 miles south of Seymour), coming upon them suddenly can take your breath away. Of course, that might have been all the hiking and leaping across ravines. But I'm pretty sure it was the thistles.

Cows make me laugh. I don't know why. Maybe it's their unblinking curiosity at whatever they come across - along with their simple, stubborn refusal to be moved by whatever it happens to be. You just can't impress a cow. We didn't see too many at the beginning of the week, and I didn't realize how much I missed them until they came back.

These grasshoppers blend perfectly and sedately into the landscape - until they suddenly decide to take a wild leap through space. Can you imagine what it would be like to jump like that on a human scale?

The sunsets are unbelievable - and different every day.

Of course, it's not all natural beauty. You have to look out for some things.

So, I should have known this, but I just discovered a fun little fact on this trip. Rattlesnakes are deadly. Sure, hospitals have the antivenom - but what are you going to do if you get bit by one in the middle of a ranch, at least an hour away from the nearest medical facility?

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.

Mineral Wells was crawling with these. You might not be able to tell from this picture, but they are HUGE. And if the bright red color isn't warning enough, check out the close up below.

Look at the pinchers on this guy! They're as big as his head.

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.

David collects an orb weaver spider, for the live insect collection at the Museum. The weather was turning so cold, he was afraid the spider might not survive. When it warmed up - and the spider turned listless in captivity - David released it back into the wild.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day 9: The Last Hurrah

Yesterday, the team had a few more things to take care of at the site before heading out - and of course, they found something new. Here are a few more pictures from the last few hours of the dig.

Dr. Bakker, Johnny and Kathy work on finishing up - cleaning up the site, and making sure everything they leave behind is protected until the team can return.

Here, Kathy is "capping" the foam jackets of one of the Dimetrodon spines - this process keeps the bones protected and together for their journey to the Museum.

Johnny is working on excavating a new layer of bone, beneath the main Amy layer. Before they left, he managed to find one more Dimetrodon tooth.

There's a belief among paleontologists that you always find something cool on the last hour of the last day - when, of course, you don't have time to look any further. This time, it was a vertebra of a Labidosaurus - a stocky little Permian reptile that the team rarely encounters.

Seymour High School's Jacob and Tarrington also checked in with thoughts from their time with the dig team.

From Jacob:

"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."

From Tarrington:

"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."

They dug 'till the very last minute. Now the team's heading on out, from under gorgeous Texas skies - and they can't wait to get back to dig up even more Permian history.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 8: Movin' On Out

Yesterday was the last full day of the dig. The plan was to spend most of it cleaning up - that is, preparing everything that can be removed to be sent to the Museum, and covering everything that can't so it is protected from the elements until the team returns. They were hoping to further excavate the jaw found yesterday to see how much more of the skull was preserved.

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.

Dr. Bakker holds the Amy Dimetrodon's braincase - 100% intact and uncrushed. A very rare find.

A close-up of the braincase. This is what a Dimetrodon's brain looked like.

They also jacketed what couldn't be removed from the main Amy site with a new technique - foam jacketing. Using foam helps protect tiny, more fragile bones. It's also a lot lighter to carry than plaster. It looks like a lot more fun, too - like a game of prehistoric silly string.

Here, Dr. Bakker covers a portion of the Amy site with foam that will quickly harden and protect the bones on their journey back to Houston.

A close-up of the foam-jacketing process.

There is a lot at this site to protect:

Here you can see how many of the important discoveries were located on the main bone bed.

Since it was the last day for the whole team to be working, it seems safe to mention (without having to knock on wood) that even though the Red Beds is famous for its punishing conditions, the HMNS team was lucky enough to have weather like this the whole week:

David and Johnny excavate a site under the huge, blue Texas sky.

We were also surrounding with some pretty stunning wildlife - more on that soon, along with analysis of the week's finds from Dr. Bakker.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Video Everywhere!

We've increased our capacity for uploading video, so several new videos have popped up throughout the blog. They are each located inside the post for the day they were shot. Here's what's new:

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.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Day 7: 10 OMGs

Dr. Bakker has an impulsive, informal response to most paleontological finds. If you've got something cool - like a tooth in perfect condition, he'll exclaim, "Oh my God, look at this." If it's really cool - like a razor-sharp claw he's never seem before, it's "Oh my God, Oh my God, what is this?" And so on - the cooler the find, the more "Oh my God"s you get. So, the team has taken to rating it's finds in OMGs (or, "Oh My God"s).

Before today was out, we had a 10 OMG discovery. But first...

This morning, Dr. Bakker was greeted by a very different dig site than the one he left on Wednesday - it was the first time he's seen many of the big finds of the week, including the very large Dimetrodon humerus that came out yesterday. (He left to be honored mid-week by his home state. As many on the team were surprised to discover, even though Dr. Bakker looks like a cowboy, he actually hails from New Jersey.) The site's namesake, Amy, also returned to work on her find.

Dr. Bakker examines the newly-uncovered humerus while site namesake and discoverer Amy Taylor starts working on the far North end of her site this morning.

UPDATE: in this video, Kathleen talks to Amy about her discovery of a site that's turning out most of a Dimetrodon - the biggest pre-dinosaur predator.

Since the central objective of the Amy site is to get the entire hill down to the lower level that holds the associated Dimetrodon skeleton (while preserving and mapping all the bones in the middle layers), the first order of business was to map, document and remove the humerus in order to continue digging downward.

Chris maps and removes the Dimetrodon humerus. Dr. Bakker decided that it should be removed right away to make way for further digging.

Within minutes of the humerus' removal, Kim found the clavicle. In perfect condition!

Kim and Johnny work on excavating under the level where the humerus was found. Little did they know that they were about to uncover another significant fossil.

Here, the clavicle Kim uncovered is outlined in yellow. It is in extremely good condition - it's complete, with nothing at all missing.

At this point, everyone is pretty happy with the day's work - a major site keeps producing more fossils of the same animal, plus a major new bone. So, they're working along, when all of the sudden...

"Oh, my God. I've got the jaw." Chris starts to uncover his new find, about 5 inches over from the location of the humerus and clavicle. It gets that plus 9 more OMGs from Dr. Bakker.

A tooth. In place. In the jaw. What looks like possibly the ENTIRE upper jaw.

Here, you can see the first tooth that popped out of the ground. The mound of earth in front of it contains the jawbone.

At the time this image was taken, 5 teeth had been excavated - three more (indicated by the dotted blue lines) would be revealed before the end of the day. This looks to be almost the entire upper jaw.

With eight full teeth. It's a major find. A 10 OMG, for sure. And - it's in such good shape, they're expecting to find the rest - possibly with the front "killing teeth," tomorrow. In addition, the rib cage is surprisingly intact, the spines are very long and the jaw is amazing - all 8 teeth that remain attached are in pristine condition. Dr. Bakker believes these fossils will need very little prep work before they are ready for display.

According to Dr. Bakker, "That solves the mystery!" This jaw proves that the skeleton we've been working on is, in fact, our mystery animal - so far represented by four small teeth from the Aimee site and a giant fang from the K2 site. It's a Dimetrodon for sure, but we don't know what the species is yet. If this is a Dimetrodon loomisi, Bakker says this find could possibly be the best preserved specimen to date. And it is in spectacular condition.

More photos from today:

Piece of cake! Johnny, Chris and Neal pull the second jacket out of the Spine site. The first jacket, taken out yesterday, was about twice this size.

It might have been smaller - but it was still more than 200 pounds, way too heavy and unweildy to carry up the steep slope to the trucks.

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.

Neal Immega - What's this rock doing with red and green spots?

This is a fine grained quartz sandstone from a shallow creek that flowed during Permian times at what is now the Craddock Ranch. Notice that the rock is made up of layers that dip to the right. These are called forsets and are the leading edge of a ripple in the sand at the bottom of the creek. Moving water transports sand in the shape of a ripple. If you look closely, you will see that there are several of these angled layers and each layer truncates the previous one because the moving ripples tend to erode some or all of the previous one.

The red and green color comes from iron in different oxidization states. If you could examine the grains with an electron microscope, you would see that the quartz is coated with a layer of iron-rich clay. I think that the original color of the rock was red like all the other sediments in these redbeds. Rivers also transport organic material, like plant debris, along with the sand. Bacterial decomposition of the organic materials will also reduce the iron, changing the color of the iron from red to green. The green spots come from decomposition of isolated bits of organic material.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day 6: The Ground Movers

Today, the team moved a lot of ground. Starting with that 350-pound behemoth plaster jacket. After reinforcing it yesterday, they tackled this enormous project first thing.

Once it was flipped - one of several dramatic processes we've chronicled on video we'll post tomorrow - they shaved excess dirt off the now-top of the jacket (originally, the bottom) to try and lighten the load and then covered it with wet newspapers and plaster-soaked burlap to "cap" it.

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.

They also introduced Amy, the namesake and original discoverer of our Dimetrodon site, to the glory her find had turned out this week.
The ranch-owner, Bill Whitley, looks on from the far left as Kathy and Chris show Amy, far right, her site. Check back for an interview with Amy about what it feels like to have such a significant find named after you.

Before the day was out, they'd uncovered something even grander - a humerus in pristine condition AND a huge Dimetrodon fang with a full root. This is further evidence that the skull of this animal is likely somewhere in the Amy site, as only Dimetrodon teeth lost after death have roots still attached.

Dimetrodon humerus uncovered today - at 18 cm, it's "very robust" for the species, according to Dr. Bakker.

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.

After the plaster cap dried in the sun all day, the team called in a front-end loader to assist in getting this massive bundle up a very steep hill. As Dave said, it "felt kind of like getting King Kong into the boat."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Day 5: The Beatles Strike Again

As more and more of the Amy Dimetrodon popped out of the ground today, the team spontaneously broke into a collective rendition of The Beatles' "Come Together" - accidentally following the proud tradition of channeling the Fab Four in celebration of a big find. It certainly won't have Lucy's groundbreaking, international impact - but it's still pretty cool to see something so recognizable just keep coming together.

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:

Multiple vertebra and a fin spine that Kathleen and Kathy unearthed today at the Amy site.

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."

This image shows the spine running across the top of the picture above, as it is being uncovered.

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.

Further up the opposite hill, Shirley, Neal and Kim Beck dug into a possible site discovered by SHS students Jacob and Tarrington, who will be back on the dig tomorrow morning. Though the site was rich with Xenacanthus teeth on the surface, which the guys did a great job of finding - it turned out to prove the rule that you can't strike gold every time.

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 and Johnny also worked on "stabilizing the jacket," though it looked an awful lot like playing in the mud.

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.

Johnny and David work on wrapping the Spine site with plaster. In person, you can see all the textured burlap peeking through - it makes the jacket look kind of like a mummified block.

Tomorrow they'll undertake the massive task of flipping this monster over. They also headed into town for a visit with another of Kim Beck's science classes.

SHS junior Shelby Winter examines a possible Xenacanth coprolite.

SHS students Shelby Martin and Shelby Winter check out arthopod tracks found on local sandstone.

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.