Saturday, August 2, 2014

Out West 2014: Family Dino Dig Day 2

One of the many nice things about our two-day dinosaur dig (the Premium Nice Thing being, of course, that we're going to dig for dinosaurs again!!!) is that on this second day, everyone knows exactly what to do, no intro lecture needed, whether it's chipping in to help unload the tools--

--or settling in to make more exciting discoveries:

Matt discovered, excavated, mapped, and wrapped this really cool rib fragment:

Syd excavated--

--and mapped a find, too--

This photo of one of the paleontologists teaching Syd how to map is one of my favorites.
 --and did some field jacketing:

Check out just a part of the growing stash of fossils bound for the museum!

And those are just the small ones!

Bizarrely, I have practically zero photos of Will on this second day of digging, even more inexcusable because this was her tenth birthday! I was intensely focused on my personal Great White Whale of Fossils, however, as I'll show you in a bit, and Will apparently must have puttered and worked contentedly all day to not have gained my notice. 

Except for the van rides, of course... It's a long ride in the van both to the dig site and back, and to the ranch house and back for lunch, and for that whole time we're all just trapped there in the van with each other, for better or worse. On the first day, Will had been pretty quiet, but on this second day, she sat on the ride up next to this bookish, funny, sarcastic, very kind, very intelligent teenaged fellow, and whatever this guy ended up thinking about her, bless his heart, Will decided that she thought that He. Was. AWESOME. 

Side note: When Will thinks that you're awesome, she may demonstrate this to you by means of verbal obnoxiousness. 

Will bantered with this guy for the whole ride, every ride, torturing him with ten-year-old wit (she thought that it was HILARIOUS to repeatedly question the definition of common words, bringing the conversation steadily down to a microcosm of linguistic absurdity), doing her very darnedest to hold her own against his clever eighteen-year-old wit (her darnedest mainly involved the use of lots of sophisticated vocabulary that she knows but doesn't know how to pronounce), laughing her head off so hard that she could barely catch her breath, and basically basking in the attention of this awesome fellow who was so great and so willing to humor her and talk to her not like she was a kid, but like the similarly bookish, funny, sarcastic person that she is. 

Matt and I sat two rows up, alternately trying to pretend like we did not know this crazy child, clarifying her crazier comments so that people didn't think that we were crazy, too ("I swear that she only knows about cannibals from Pippi Longstocking--I don't know why she's telling you about cannibalistic horses"), nervously anticipating what further horrors she might yet unleash, and attempting to reassure the van at large that "um, you can tell she really likes you if she's willing to tell you that sometimes she thinks we're all a story made up by alien robots." 

Long van rides, y'all. LONG van rides, and yet strangely entertaining, like watching two mad geniuses have a meeting of the minds--the crazy and the stunning intellect are so readily exchanged that you kind of stop being able to tell the difference after a while.

 On this second day, the kids also took a little more time to play and explore--
giant piles of rubble=much fun

Here's one of the trenches around the dig site, needed to channel excess water from the work area in case of rain.
--and to help with other miscellaneous tasks around the dig site, such as digging trenches and cutting burlap for field jackets. You can never be sure what a kid's memories will be (Matt and I joke that all of the Ingalls homestead will be remembered solely as "kitten farm," thanks to the litter of farm kitties there), but I hope that these times of focused work interspersed with times of relaxed observation will help the kids remember the dig site and all its many components with greater accuracy.

Although Will may just mainly remember the van rides.

After lunch, we took a side trip up a neighboring bluff to check out the view:

That hill to the right is another potential dig site, although it would be a rough one. It's so weathered, though, that apparently fossils are just sticking up out of the exposed hill!

For most of this day, though, I was profoundly focused on my own project. Partway through the morning, one of the paleontologists cleverly managed to lure me away from my dead area (Goodbye, teensy rib fragments! Goodbye, tendons! Goodbye, broken teeth!) and set me to work excavating this edmontosaurus tibia:

I LOVED this job. LOVED. IT. I cuddled up to that tibia and barely looked away from it for the rest of the day:
THIS is why my collarbone still hurt days later!
The fossil is set straight into the hillside, so to excavate it, you've got to take off ALL the rock on top of it, for its entire length.

BUT you don't want to do too much hacking at the hill without following it up with careful work near the fossil; the fossil could end in a broken point at any time (and wouldn't that be exciting--broken by WHAT?!?--and then you'd have wasted time taking down that hillside for nothing.

Check out my blister wraps! Super hard-core.
Seriously, I LOVED this freaking tibia. I kept talking about it as "my tibia," and telling these really boring stories about it ("And then I was scraping some mud away from my tibia, and all of a sudden I thought that I'd cracked it, so I brushed away the dirt, and it turns out that it was okay! But you can bet that I put more Paleobond on that baby just in case!"), and everyone would listen really patiently and kindly, probably imagining that if it wasn't me going on about my tibia, it would be my kid going on about cannibal horses and their island nation and, you know, pick your poison!

But really, isn't it beautiful?

Sometimes, with these fossils, you squirt Paleobond over the tops of them as you're working, to keep them stable, and at one point I squirted Paleobond all over a freshly-excavated inch of tibia, then went to work away at the hillside on top of it, and immediately forgot about the Paleobond and put my hand straight into it.

I did not need to be debonded, but I *might* discover a tiny section of skin on my tibia when I go in to prep it later this month in the museum. 

Late in the afternoon, likely clearly seeing the developing psychosis in my unhealthy attachment to this edmontosaurus tibia, that same paleontologist lured me away from it with the invitation to help field wrap some huge edmontosaurus bones; this was our final activity at the dinosaur dig:
The two guys who did pretty much the entire excavation of these bones (the guy in green is Will's buddy from my story above) wrapped the bones in aluminum foil to protect them, then are wrapping them first in pre-plastered bandages that we're wetting and handing to them.
After it's got a layer of bandages, we're dipping the lengths of burlap that Syd cut earlier into plaster of Paris and then handing them off to them to be wrapped more thoroughly.

Field jacketing is a MESSY job to begin with, but I'm cracking up here because the little dude to my right is somehow managing to absolutely douse me in plaster with every piece of burlap that he preps. 
See? Doused! There's plaster under my eye, and in my ear, and down the back of my shirt--up to my elbows is a given.
 Here's that finished field jacket, sans the braces that will be done later:

There is not enough that I can say about this family dinosaur dig. It is one of the best things that we have ever done as a family. It was perfect in every way. Of course, since the staff belong to a children's museum, it's redundant for me to tell you that they were GREAT with the kids, but they were actually great with everyone. Every paleontologist would take all the time in the world to carefully explain everything to any digger, whether it was my eight-year-old kid or 37-year-old me; both small children and goofy, over-eager amateurs were treated with respect and seriousness and helped to understand the real science that we were performing. We felt integral to the work at all times, and the patience that must have required for these professionals astounds me. More than once I saw a paleontologist first teach a child the concept of a grid, then teach the child how to read the grid, then teach the child how to apply that information to a grid placed over a dig area, then teach a child how to use that grid to map a find, then teach that child how to draw the find onto a paper grid, then stand next to that child and hold the grid while the child took all the time in heaven and earth to perform that task, never hurrying, never acting impatient, never even hinting at the possibility that anyone other than that child would ever need to step in and take over or "help."

So yes, we all learned an incredible amount, but it was more than just the couple of school days that I marked them as on the kids' homeschool calendar; it was also the best kind of fantasy camp--you know those places where adults can go to pretend to be professional football players or spies or mystery-solving elves for a weekend (I really want to go to this one, by the way)? Well, imagine this like fantasy paleontology camp, only it's not pretend. It's REAL. Matt's rib, and Syd's, and Will's tibia, and mine (ooh, and that giant femur that I helped field jacket!) are real. We really discovered them, and excavated them, and field jacketed them according to professional standards that mean that they can add to the scientific canon of paleontology. They're at a real museum, and later we'll spend time in that museum preparing them and studying them, and maybe there will be something exceptional about them, or maybe they'll simply add to the examples of typical edmontosaurus skeletal anatomy, but regardless, they're part of Science now.

And we did that.

P.S. Lots of people have been telling me stories lately of animals lost for long periods of time, mourned and thought gone forever, who have returned--thank you for that. We're still handing out flyers and still missing our Spots:
If you see her, tell her to get her butt back home to us!


Tina said...

Your tibia is wonderful!

I am so glad that you shared your family adventure with the world. It sounds like a wonderful, educational, memorable experience.

I really loved the story about Willow's conversations in the van :0)

julie said...

Thanks! The trip really made me wonder if the sweet spot for Will's peer group is actually bookish teens.


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