This last weekend produced probably the best results I've ever experienced while fossil hunting - these last two days will be hard to beat.
Before I get to that though, I do want to include a find from the weekend before (since this is the topic of rarity). It was a local find and a first for the species for me. Not only that, but my first real "heartbreaker". It was bound to happen at some point!
Sticking halfway out of the gravel, I instantly recognized a large Ptychodus tooth, of either P. marginalis or P. polygyrus - I couldn't remember at the time which of the two was the younger, but regardless both are rare and would be a first for me. (
spoiler - it's P. polygyrus)(EDIT: I forgot you don't find polygyrus in Texas - this is probably a P. martini then (also rare, woohoo!). With great anticipation I pulled it out - only to realize that it wasn't half buried - just broken in half!
Despite the realization, I was still ecstatic, heightened by the fact that this was on a scout to a new spot as well.
But, that't not what y'all are here for, so without further adieu, let's fast forward to my time last weekend.
I at first met up with Kris ( @Ptychodus04 ) up in north Texas to take a look at a woodbine site where he discovered the holotype of Flexomornis. That's right, our own forum member discovered north america's oldest definitive bird! It was an estuary-esque deposit, and I was curious about what potential the site had for dinosaur fauna ( a newly inspired interest ever since my time romping around in the hell creek formation). We found some powdery bits and pieces of chunkasaur, as well as some tiny amounts of croc, fish, and bird material, so the excursion was quite informative for me. Kris brought his old friend and hunting partner Joe, and the three of us were chatting it up the whole time - it was a morning well spent.
Before the day became too hot, we turned back and Kris offered to take me to a cenomanian Eagle Ford site in the area. I have a very hard time running into the lower Eagle Ford, so I was happy to accept, and we hit the creek with the sun high above. Now, you won't catch him tooting his own horn, so I'll do it for him - Kris is an insanely skilled collector. He and Joe have made some bonkers discoveries that I had no clue about - new things, completely articulated things... his 40 years of collecting experience has a track record that shines.
In our first ten minutes into the creek, something coming out of the weathered bank caught my eye:
10 minutes prior, as we were walking in, I joked to Kris about finding a fully articulated Coniasaurus here. Coniasaurs have been bouncing in my head for a couple months now, ever since having an energizing discussion about them with Mike at SMU (the first time I found out they even exist). They and Pseudomegachasma were why I was so bent on finding cenomanian Eagle Ford, and this being my first time In cenomanian eagle ford strata, I had my fingers crossed.... and it seemed to work! I didn't want to be the boy who cried coniasaur... but I was fairly positive that that's what I was seeing.
Kris was right behind me and seemed to agree - so, I drove a pick in below the vert to pry it out... and out came another vert locked into attachment with it, freshly broken in half. Silence. I looked at Kris, Kris looked at the vert, and we both went "oh!"
From this alone, I was starting to get very excited, though I had to remind my self that odds were low that it would be all I was imagining. Kris (thank god he was there and could take over the digging, literally the best person for the job) began exploring deeper, and the vertebrae continued. Joe continued a little further up as we dug.
Soon, we had a line of them exposed. Keep in mind, this is without 1.5 verts that broke off with the initial discovery:
If you look to the left of the closest to the screen vert, you can see a tiny rib piece (which I originally assumed to be a process)
The verts continued still, and then my phone overheated, so the pictures had to stop. Here's one that Joe nabbed of the scene:
Paraloid was slapped on and Kris removed the first major block. A spot of bone on the other end looked to be on the side, so we moved in further and revealed another block where the bone seemed to finally stop.
Covered in sweat we then continued our hunt. While looking at a pyrite inclusion, I practically stepped on a Xiphactinus tooth. Kris spotted it as I walked away, I was shocked I missed it! This sort of find is almost casual for these two (yeah, they're good), so he offered I keep it. I was happy to accept - it's the best Xiphactinus tooth I've personally seen.
Our walk was mostly uneventful from there, right until we got to our turn around point. Kris and I realized at some point that we left Joe where we had turned around, and I went back to check on him. He was under a large overhang, where he had pulled out few plates of shale containing bone. Since both of them have found many large fish on this creek, they didn't bat an eye, but I was amazed! It seemed there were some skull elements of a large fish on them.
"Are there more? " I asked
"A little", said Joe, and he showed me where he spotted them. After a few seconds of moving material, we revealed another large piece of bone, and I about died. However, not too keen to excavate, considering it's fairly insignificant material for them (and the heat was oppressive at this point), we left for Kris's place. I told them I planned to get right back as soon as I got in my car, and they wished me luck and told me to send updates.
Back at the site, I revealed the bone quickly, and in doing so, more bone that was previously buried revealed itself 10 inches to the left. I began on that, and soon realized I was working on a HUGE vert. "Xiphactinus it is then", I said, as nothing else from this portion of the cenomanian (except perhaps plesiosaurs) could produce something this big.
As I continued work though, I started losing faith in my ID. The bone itself was nothing like fish. The day was drawing to a close, and I drove back home with a renewed interest in the mystery vert. I arrived home late.
Then, early the next morning, I woke to do it all again, but first on the list was to drop off the coniasaur at SMU. I mentally prepared myself to spend another $90 on gas and then set out loaded with energy. I stayed at SMU for several hours - it's always a pleasure to spend time there so I didn't mind getting out to the dig site later than expected.
It didn't take long for me to finally remove the vert... and revealed behind it was another...yes!!
Happy to finally be out from under that overhang, I looked hard at what was in my hands. Both sides were revealed now, and I caught my breath. This was certainly reptile.
I showed some photos to Mike at SMU, wondering about Plesiosaur, and he decided that while it would need some prep first, he doesn't think so.
This leaves Archosaur origin, if I dare suggest.
Some more field photos are below:
(During the dig)
Unbelievable two days, to say the least. I'll have to return this weekend, and I'll update this thread as necessary. The site though is in the worst possible place it could be - at the back of an overhang held together by only the roots of a cedar, whose exposed roots hang like a curtain behind you as you work. It's going to take some work to make that safe, and more work to dive in from there, but I'm rearing to go. What a weekend - if I wasn't typing this at midnight I'd probably write much more, but that's the gist of it for now. Stay tuned!
I type this with dirt under my nails and a keen soreness in muscles I didn't know existed
The original plan was to drive up with James ( @Rat Muncher ), a rock climbing friend who is getting interested into paleo lately, and my step brother Christian, who historically is always good luck. From there we were to meet with Joe, who originally found the fish bones to the right of the vert(s). Unfortunately Christian couldn't make it so it was James and I taking on the overhang all of Saturday, while Joe came and helped us today:
We moved an enormous quantity of material. I can't really quantify it in weight, but it's like someone piled the back of their pick up high and then dumped it all in the creek. Some photos:
How the site looked on arrival - I'm crouched in there for context:
The first vert's original positioning (the one removed last weekend)
The current vert, which lay directly behind the one above.
The first vert was touching it at the bottom of the face, where you can see a break in the photo. As you can see- almost articulated. Look to the upper left of my finger: That's more delicate bone that's associated. This made things much more difficult - though the preservation of smaller skeletal elements hopefully suggests good preservation of the rest of the specimen. But now, instead of moving verts out one at a time, this was a game of getting the largest bone blocks out as slabs as possible, to preserve the orientation of these other bones.
This is the practically the most difficult possible scenario for an excavation. As excited as I am, I have to admit I'm a little frustrated. The overburden here is ridiculous. We successfully made it safer, but it's not safe yet - and this animal is going straight into the bank. All three of the possible options (pliosaur, croc, or floated dinosaur) are lengthy animals.
James and I slammed away with pick axes all of Saturday, and Sunday was more picking followed by the more concentrated work trying to remove the rock directly above the would-be bone block away, so that we can have room to pry up the bone block from the bottom. We thankfully accomplished this. Yet, we left the bone until next time - I don't want to fall victim to impatience and damage the bone with hand tools. The next time I come out again (hopefully soon), we'll remove the bone block we revealed with a chainsaw.
Joe came in clutch here today - James and I were cloudy headed and sweating pure Red Bull by this point, and Joe pointed out some tricks to make our dig a little easier, some of which were obvious in retrospect - we made some goofy mistakes in that heat
Once the bone block is removed, I have to admit I don't know what I'll do to get the rest of the bone out that may be behind it. I suspect it's going to be a story of getting little blocks removed at a time as we tediously tunnel in over the coming weeks, if the bone continues. If the bone getting revealed is exciting enough to convince them, I think I'll ask a paleontologist interested in this fauna to send some manpower and tools to continue. I would like to do research on this specimen if it gets there, so that would be great if it happens that way.
This is a delayed update...but I found more of the animal
Joe came out with the chainsaw and it was a game changer - one entire day was spent removing overburden and chainsawing the sides of the bone block - we had trouble freeing the back end of the block so that's what I spent the next day doing when I was on my own. The block didn't break perfectly, but nonetheless a huge section came off, revealing one of the most beautiful sights I've personally laid eyes on:
Three associated verts, with their fallen (unfused) neural arches, from right behind where the fourth vert was removed.... I lost my head, as this preservation means we may have much more of the animal waiting. There is more bone still in the bank- another process from another vert hiding away.
Now, the folks at SMU have a hunch about what plesiosaur this is, as well as a few other exciting details (like how, for example, this animal seems to be facing into the bank) but I can't give y'all anymore hints - don't want to spoil any surprises!