Roberta: The other brachylophosaur

Hello again – from Houston this time. Steven and I are back from Malta. It’s been a few days since we’ve posted about the trip. I’m not gonna lie – we were tired, y’all. People always ask what it takes to be a paleontologist – in addition to education and field experience, it  also takes a lack of need for any kind of sleep. It’s a completely amazing experience, but they get up at 6 a.m. and they don’t go to sleep until after midnight – and that’s a long day of hiking up mountains and hanging off cliffs.

So, apologies for the delay, but we have lots more to share – starting with Roberta, the other brachylophosaur. (Besides Leonardo, that is.) She’ll be on display in the new Great Plains Dinosaur Museum (opening June 6 in Malta, MT – book your tickets now. Seriously – you won’t be disappointed), so she won’t be on display in Houston with Leonardo – but she’s a beautifully preserved specimen (as you can see), and we got the chance to see the process of preservation in action this week.

Leonardo and Roberta

A full size model of Leonardo stands over Roberta, another brachylophosaur found near Malta. Though she does not have skin, Roberta is extremely well preserved. It’s very rare to find a dinosaur so complete. Normally, display specimens are pieced together from multiple individuals.
In the background, several paleontologists are working on other specimens housed in the Field Station.

Roberta’s broken nose

Roberta’s nose was broken in life – which would have made it very difficult for her
to eat. Her species processed tough plant material by grinding the top part of their
skull over the bottom part – so a break like this would have severely
impeded that process.

Roberta’s teeth

Roberta’s teeth are so well preserved, you almost want to brush them.

Roberta’s ribs

Roberta’s ribs are resting on the plaster jacket in which she was carried
out of the excavation site (see the gap?). Looking at the skeleton from the
top, the bones appear to be stuck to the jacket – in fact, many pieces had
to be removed before the specimen could be driven to the new Museum.
Otherwise, the vibration from the drive could have jiggled them apart.

The fossils have been preserved in the ground for millions of years – but once you get them out, it’s important to retain that preservation. Montana is so dry that once the bones have been excavated, they can dry out, crack and fall apart very easily. So, every six months, a new coat of Vinac (essentially, glue) must be applied to prevent this from happening.

In this video, Kathy Zoehfeld Vinacs (yes, it’s one of those noun-verbs, like “Google”) Roberta’s skull, to stabilize the fossil before the move to the new museum.

You can see David prepping the other end of Roberta’s skeleton here. In each video, notice how the Vinac adds a visible, thin sheen, in comparison to the other bones that haven’t been coated yet. It soaks into all the pores and helps stabilize the bones, so they don’t begin to crumble.

More soon on Dak – the brachy that survived a T. rex attack!

We’re diiiiging in the rain…

Just diiiiiging in the rain

Well, actually we’re not. That would actually be a really, really bad idea – and if you saw our post earlier with a photo from yesterday’s site, you have a good idea why.

The weather started building yesterday afternoon and by this morning it was coming down hard. Since we were planning to dig Marco, the site Steven discovered yesterday, he was a little disappointed.

And it did rain all day – the first time they have had rain like this in over a year. So it’s not just soaking in – it’s running over the surface in rivers and creating vast quantities of mud that make scaling the steep cliff faces these sites are at the top of near to suicidal.

So, we got the opportunity to work the Dinosaur Field Station, which was just as fascinating (and much less dangerous and/or muddy). This is the facility where they do prep work on finds once they have been brought off the site – stabilizing the fossils, removing the dirt, or “matrix,” and preparing them for display.

It used to be an auto machanic shop, but they have renovated it to include all of the tools they need – large workspaces, a huge storage closet, a wine refrigerator that houses vinac (a glue solution), outlets for air drills that are used to pick away at the matrix and much more.

Right now, the Field Station is a mix of display and work-in-progress, but when the Great Plains Museum opens on June 6, it will serve as a permanent home for these fossils, as well as Leonardo, after his world premiere debut at HMNS.

Leonardo and Roberta

A life-size model of Leonardo stands guard of the real
remains of Roberta, another Brachylophosaur.

So, in addition to prospecting this week, Dr. Bakker is directing the movement of fossils from one place to the other. Today, we assistied with the documentation and categorizization of what they have in storage from over 10 years of digging here – which was quite fun, as they were constantly discovering something they hadn’t seen in several years, like a T. rex brain case (essentially, a natural cast of the inside of a skull) and we got to hear the stories of discovery and excavation. (We’ll share more video soon.)

Dr. Bakker, Mark and Tim

Dr. Bakker, Mark and Tim going through stored fossils to
identify them and analyze their significance
within the planned displays at the new Great Plains Museum.

Roberta closeup

A closeup of Roberta’s ribcage.

Dave and Kathy

Dave and Kathy are examining some fossils in storage,
to record them before the move later this week.