Wash, rinse and repeat: See pics from Paleo Wash Day at HMNS Sugar Land

I would like to thank the approximately 175 citizen scientists that came out Saturday at HMNS Sugar Land. They helped us process approximately 1,000 pounds of soil and rock from the specimens we’ve collected from our Permian-aged (182-187 million years ago) site near Seymour,Texas.

washday 010I was impressed with your cooperativeness, curiosity, and, most importantly, the care you all exhibited in processing these samples. Also, this experience absolutely would not have been possible without the facilitation of our experienced museum and field crew volunteers.

washday 011The Process:

In excavating fossils, many times we will work to retain the matrix that is removed from around the specimen. This matrix is soaked in water and allowed to disaggregate. Then the mud is placed and screens and gently rinsed, leaving behind hard pieces — including fossils.

UntitledAfter rinsing, the specimens are dried and then searched. This process will typically reduce the bulk sample size by 80 percent.  People processing the sample typically are left very wet and muddy, as you can see here:

washday 048From all of us here at HMNS, thank you!

If All the Dinos Died on One Terrible Weekend – Where are All the Bodies?

asteroid
Creative Commons License photo credit: goldenrectangle

According to the Impact Theory, a rock from space smashed into the earth, threw up a huge dust cloud, chilled the atmosphere and sent down acid rain.  All the dinosaurs died immediately all over the globe or in a week or so.

So….where are the bodies of the victims?

Probability of Becoming a Fossil: 0%     or    100%

0%
If you die on a high plateau or a grassy meadow or on the average forest floor, far from the influence of river floods, your bones will get chewed, cracked, smashed and digested by scavengers. The remnants will get dried up and will flake away to nothing under the sun. Or, if the ground is wet, worms and grubs and fungi will destroy your osseous remnants.

That happens to most dead bodies, most spots, most of the time. Or…

100%
What if you’re lucky enough to die in a depositional basin, where yearly floods bring in layers of sand, silt and mud, and where lake bottoms accumulate blankets of sediment all the time. A place where huge sand bars develop in streams and rivers….

….then the possibility that some of your bones will get buried and fossilized rises to close to 100%.

Dino Extinction Supposedly Hit While Montana Was Getting Sediment
At the time of the Great Dino Die-Off, no sediment was being laid down in most places in the world. But in Montana’s Cretaceous coal fields, there were many swampy lakes and sluggish rivers, locales where mud and sand was being carried in. This depositional activity seems to have continued right through the end of the Cretaceous and beginning of the next Period, the Tertiary (“Age of Mammals”).

In fact, field geologists have a hard time telling where the Cretaceous mud ends and rhe Tertiary mud begins.

20090222_9115
Creative Commons License photo credit: etee

If the Impact Theory is right, millions of Triceratops carcasses littered the landscape. Tens of millions of duck-bill dino bones also covered the ground. And….there were no big scavengers to crack the bones. The average dino body would last far longer than usual. Some of the impact victims should have had a high probability of being buried in the mud at the Impact Layer, the sand and silt and mud deposited right after the rock from the sky struck.

Total number of dino bones found right at the Impact Layer – 00.00.

That’s  one reason why I am an Impact Skeptic. You have to do some special pleading to explain the lack of dino bones at the impact layer. You could argue that soil acid dissolved the bones. Or that for a hundred years there was no new mud, no new sand, no new silt.

Could be.

Still, I like to begin with a geological peshat (first impression): When I scan the actual facts on the ground, there is no evidence whatever of a sudden massive death of dinosaurian multitudes at the Impact Layer.

I dinosauri a Cremona
Creative Commons License photo credit: Simone Ramella

Evidence for a Long, Slow Disaster
There are clues that indicate the dino ecosystem was deteriorating long before the impact. The diversity among big, multi-ton dinos went way down about 5 to 10 million years before the end. In the Latest Cretaceous (Lancian Age) in most places in Montana, there are only two common big dinos – either Triceratops or the duckbill Edmontosaurus. It was a dino-monoculture.  At 76 million years ago diversity was much higher.

Serial Killer in Deep Time
The biggest reason I’m a skeptic is the victim profile. When the dinos finally went extinct, salamanders, frogs, pond turtles, river gators all survived and thrived. So did most small terrestrial species. That pattern holds for six other mass extinctions – beginning at 285 million ears ago, long before the first dino. And the pattern is obvious in the last extinction at the end of the Ice Age, 11,000 years ago.

Impact Theory Fails to Predict the Correct Victim Profile
Sudden chill and acid rain will wipe out salamander-oids and frog-oids and turtle-oids. And hit big, active animals far less severely.

The wrong animals died.

Read about my dinosaur extinction theory in an early blog post.

Not having fun…Stick your head in it!

Museums are generally fascinating places to be and I, especially, love them.  Working at HMNS, I get to see dinosaur bones, snails’ teeth (yes, they have teeth -radula, actually), and spiffy seal-gut parkas on a daily basis. And let me just tell you, it never gets old!  However, on a recent Museum visit with my friends, I noticed that a few of them did not share my enthusiasm, to say the least.  It was a problem that demanded my immediate attention.

Being a huge proponent of edutainment, I turned to them with my camera and simply said, “Hey!  Wouldn’t putting our heads and/or selves INSIDE of some of these things be amazingly fantastic?”  I have found this perspective particularly conducive to a fun, creative learning atmosphere in the past. 

[NOTE: I do not recommend actually sticking your head inside most of what you find in a museum.  Drinking fountains?  Sure!  Large Plexiglas bubbles that make you feel like you are in a kitchen full of cockroaches?  I sure hope so!  (Actually, you can do this in the Brown Hall of Entomology!)  But things that may be extremely rare or fragile, have electric components and really anything sharp…definitely not. What you want to do is create the appearance of being inside the object making clever use of perspective - see below.]

My first ‘volunteer’ was somewhat reserved, but when she stuck her head “inside” that geode, BOY did her face light up!  I have included a few pictures of us as we rediscovered the Woodlands Xploration Station.  As a side note, if you see something particularly tantalizing, cranially speaking, but out of your reach, just take a picture!  All you need to do is frame the shot so it appears you are being devoured by an Allosaurus, without actually getting in his mouth, for example. 

By the end of our visit, everyone involved had a greater appreciation of all the wonders a Museum has to offer, as well as a new-found awareness of their fellow craniates and their shared vantages.

I suggest first trying this method in familiar territory.  Perhaps in some as-yet unexplored corner of your closet, or even stick your head briefly in the bottom shelf of your fridge!  Can you tell me what’s in there right now?  I sure can’t, and maybe I don’t want to know what happens when you leave a slice of buttermilk pie from Christmas dinner unopened for a month…but isn’t it an enticing proposal, nonetheless?  If neither of these suggestions float your boat, you can always put your face in a tree or next to the ground.  Getting that up close and personal with nature herself opens up all of the tiny worlds that surround us.

You now have the curiosity and the tools to become a modern-day Amerigo Vespucci; go forth and explore!