Diary of a dig: A major bailout, leaping lizards and a tiny discovery in Seymour

July 9, 2012

Editor’s note: HMNS operates a dig site in Seymour, Texas with the help of some seriously dedicated volunteers who pay no heed to extreme weather, questionable sleeping arrangements and peculiar paleontologists.

Day One

First things first. I set off for the main quarry to find that the tarps I had placed back in December had not fared well in the harsh Seymour, Texas elements. Between extreme, cold, heat and wind, they had degraded and torn. Still, the quarry was partially covered and sections of the tarps could be salvaged. The main pit was full of foul, thick water and would have to be bailed out and allowed to dry (lucky me!).

bailing out

I began the exciting task of removing stakes and dragging off tarps — which might be drudgery if it weren’t for the fact that the shelter we try to provide for our fossils also gets co-opted by much of the wild kingdom. It’s a crapshoot whether you yank and run or gently tease up the edges and check inside before proceeding. Previous memorable encounters have included a huge yellowjacket nest, a skunk to whom I conceded the western side of the quarry for the season (rent-free), and a piteously flopping rat that I thought we had crushed until we discovered that we were disrupting a rattlesnake’s meal.

Seymour centipedeThis year we had dozens of field mice, a large rat and a non-venomous snake. Almost a let down, really.

I waded into the mud and began bailing. I drew off most of the water, left everything uncovered to dry with a partly cloudy sky and headed for lunch.

The Weather Channel didn’t predict the huge thunderstorm that rolled in. “Gully washers” like that can rearrange or wash away exposed fossils in minutes. We raced back to the site to shore up the already soggy bone. But with a just over a mile to go, our luck ran out; the roads became saturated and impassable. So volunteer Shana Steinhardt and I poncho-ed up  and started the mile hike to the site through the mud.

Thankfully the damage wasn’t too bad, and we were able to secure the exposed fossils. But the storm had blocked our access to the main site and stranded the truck for almost two days. Each step was a slippery mess, and our boots were perpetually coated in a pound of mud.

After the rain, though, many animals emerged and we found this muddy Texas Horned Lizard, an endangered Texas species:

Seymour, Texas | July 2012

Day Two

After the usual 6 a.m. breakfast at the New Maverick, we headed out to prospect on the southern, drier edges of the ranch. The heat was powerful (over 100 degrees) but the rain added to the humidity and made things worse for the crew.

We opted to prospect sandstones, which, from our experiences at the ranch, tend to favor the large-finned herbivore, Edaphosaurus. After four hours of prospecting, we’d found a few scraps and decided to head in for lunch.

The heat and the humidity took its toll, and most people opted to stay cool in the afternoon. The landowner stopped by and mentioned an area of the ranch that had “unusual rocks” that we had never been to, so some of the hardier guys set off to investigate. It turned out to be quite an interesting place. The site was covered with trace fossils, burrows, root casts, feeding trails, coprolites — of which a representative sample was collected. Two would prove very exciting and lead to a great find: check it out!

Seymour, Texas | July 2012
An unidentified invertebrate

Watch volunteer Leigh Cook talk about our other find — a serrated baby Dimetrodon tooth!

Authored By David Temple

David is the Museum’s associate curator of paleontology. In addition to running the Museum’s dig program in Seymour, TX and curating exhibits, he’s also unofficial head of The Department of Mysteries, a shadow wing of HMNS that deals with strange goo, unusual fossils, mysterious substances or any other unknown object you'd like to know what to do with.

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