In the quarries, each worker is assigned an area of the quarry floor (right). The workers carefully remove the mudstone from the surface using fine “dental tools“, lowering the level of the quarry inch by inch, listening carefully for the characteristic scratch of metal on bone. When the first contact with bone occurs, the worker stops, and shifts into “slow, careful” mode. The discovery is approached from all sides until its size and borders can be determined (left). Then working slowly and carefully, the bone is freed from the surrounding soil using the finest tools and a brush (left). If cracks or weak spots are present, these are cleaned then stabilized with a special consolidant (glue). As the bone emerges from the sediment and its borders are exposed, the worker reports the discovery to the quarry leader (right) and calls for the GPS (Global Positioning System) survey crew.
The bone is next described in the field notebook of the researcher and photographed. The exposed bone is then carefully registered in space using the high resolution GPS equipment After the measurements are taken, the excavation of the bone continues until completed (left) and the bone is removed from the ground. If the bone is small, it can be wrapped in heavy aluminum foil for protection. If it is intermediate in size, it will be removed, wrapped in foil and attached to a rigid plywood board using polyurethane foam. If it is a large bone, the bone must be cast with plaster and burlap to stabilize and protect it (right) much the same as a cast you might get on a broken bone. Bubble wrap is used to protect the bones during transportation to the Preparation Lab.
Whether the bone is a tiny fragment of a tooth, or a giant femur over four feet long, or something in between, each bone found is a cause for celebration and excitement in the quarry (left). Not only does the excavator experience the joy of discovery, but each bone represents a new piece of the puzzle that connects us with these remarkable creatures. It is not hard to imagine the bone you have just found, walking around inside of one of those 30 foot long giants!
You can watch live video feeds from the field during the month of June each summer, while we are working in the quarries by clicking on the “Watch Live” link in the menu at upper left.
Discovery is only the beginning of the journey these bones must make. For the next stage, they must be transported over 1000 miles to the Drake Paleontology Laboratory at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas. To find out what happens next, choose the “Prepare” heading at the top of the page.