Hittin’ the road with the HMNS Paleo crew!

BB describing boomerhead

I got the chance to travel from Houston to Seymour, TX and explore the Texas Redbeds in search of fossils with David and the HMNS Paleo Program. HMNS staff and volunteers have been making these trips for four years now. They have found several excellent specimens and brought them here to prepare for our new and improved Paleontology Hall. I’d had some experience looking at the bones and things that the crew had been bringing back to the Museum but this was my first experience actually in the field – and I was pretty excited!

Drawing of a Diplocaulus

The first morning we arrived at the site and looked around at a few different locations before settling down in the “pit” to dig. I got to spend a little time training my eyes to see fossilized bone, teeth, cartilage and coprolites among the rocks at the “spoil pile” which is a great experience because the ratio of fossils to rocks on the surface is such that you have a pretty good chance of closing your eyes and picking up a fossil! Then we moved over to learn the digging technique where fossils were a bit more hidden in the pit; it took a few minutes to get the hang of how to hold the tools and make sure that you are using enough force to move the dirt but not so much that you break a hidden bone. All and all it was really enjoyable first day at the site.

Over the next two days after Dr. Bakker arrived we visited several other sites on the property and I got a chance to work on excavating a dimetrodon spine, map some dig sites (here’s a fun school dig site mapping activity), learn about other findings like the diplocaulus or “boomerang head” skull we’re looking at in the photo above. I enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside the experts and learn about all of the preparation work that is required for each and every specimen that will be in the new Paleontology hall (coming soon!) here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I can’t wait to see everything on display in the new wing of the Museum – it’s going to be so exciting!

For more information about what fossils are found at the dig site in Seymour check out some of the entries on the Prehistoric CSI blog, you can also find some really awesome illustrations on that site to bring the animals to life!

Live from the fossil field!

Dr. Bakker’s drawing of a Dimetrodon fighting a Xenacanth
illustrates E.C. Olson’s theory of what really went on in the
Permian – and how Xenacanth might have defended itself against
the biggest predator the world had ever seen.
(c) Dr. Robert T. Bakker

Our paleontology team – led by Dr. Robert Bakker – is back in Seymour, TX this week, digging for Dimetrodon at a site they’ve now been working for several years. (You can read more of what’s been found already in our daily blog from the field in 2007).

They’ve found Dimetrodon – the T. rex of its day – all over the site. They’ve brought back jacket after jacket of fin spines, vertebra columns, even skulls of this species, for study. But – and this is the mystery – not a whole lot of herbivores. So – what was Dimetrodon eating?

The theory put forth by E.C. Olson is that they were eating Xenacanth (freshwater sharks) that swam in the shallow seas present in the area during the Permian. And the team has found evidence to that effect – in the form of chewed up shark skull in the area. But they’re still after the smoking gun that would prove Olson’s theory definitively.

Twelve or so of our best diggers have made this their mission this week – and one of them will be checking in with us every day. Today, Kat Havens – one of our regular bloggers here – fills us in on what was found. Listen closely – it’s pretty cool.

Check back soon – more news from the field tomorrow!