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digit

Volunteer Dig With The FLMNH

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digit

Over a month ago I mentioned the opportunity to volunteer for a dig with the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). In addition to the Thomas Farm sinkhole locality, this year a new opportunity opened up on a small-scale sand mining operation on private property. Some interesting bones were uncovered and the university's vertebrate paleontology department was called to come have a look. They did some initial digging and uncovered rhino and Gomphothere bones with some of them partially articulated. This sounded exciting enough for me to check into. Here's the link to the earlier posting just in case this excitement is infectious:

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/60662-volunteer-opportunities-with-the-flmnh/

My wife Tammy and I had planned on going in mid-March but a scheduling conflict for the weekend we'd chosen made us move it up a few weeks. They did most Saturdays but not every Sunday and we wanted to make best use of the weekend so we chose the 4-day block of time from March 3-6. We drove up from South Florida the night before and booked into our hotel in Ocala. Following the well-written directions from Dr. Richard Hulbert, we found the quarry and joined the volunteer team precisely at the appointed time of 10:00am (they work from 10:00am-4:30pm).

We were introduced to the layout of the site and picked up our tools: flat-blade screwdriver, small trowel, pill jar for small finds, small plastic bags for finds that come out in pieces (to facilitate reassembly), and a larger bag to contain all of our finds. We decided to work together on a single square meter of the plot and so Dr. Hulbert found us a grid square where we had room to work from both sides. It was a square that was partially leveled and our job was to complete the leveling and recover whatever fossils lay within.

Some of the other squares had interesting finds visible in them. One had a plaster-jacketed partial alligator skeleton (with skull) and another that was being worked on had Gomphothere (shovel-tusker elephant relative) bones including several associated ribs. The area we were digging in had been turning up lots of snapping turtle remains and as we progressed in our grid square we found more.

Here's a look at the work site:

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digit

As I mentioned, our grid square was turning up lots of snapping turtle pieces. There were several chunks of shell (both the upper carapace and the lower plastron). We find chunks like this in the Peace River quite commonly but these were in colors that ranged from leather brown to antique porcelain white. We also found several turtle vertebrae and some small leg bones. Toward the middle of the grid square we got into a cluster of turtle material. It seemed associated but the pieces were not in life (death?) position so there was no need to jacket the pieces. Here are some turtle bits:

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We also got into some interesting alligator bones. We found several bone white osteoderms, a calcaneum, vertebrae, and a hemal arch ("chevron bone") which protects the blood vessels on the underside of the tail.

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Heading out now for a quick breakfast so we can get back to day 2 of the dig.

Cheers.

-Ken

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Plantguy

Cool stuff Ken!. I talked with Dr. Hulbert at the last fossil show down south about this...I'm intrigued but havent pulled the trigger on doing this yet.

Thanks for showing us...makes it harder to not do it.

Regards, Chris

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ynot

Sounds like You and Tammy had a good day! :D:thumbsu: Waiting patiently to see what the next day brings!!! :popcorn:

Tony

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Fossildude19

:popcorn::popcorn::popcorn:

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digit

So here is a recap of day 2 in the field for those following along.

We had a bit of rain overnight in the hours just after midnight. Not enough to make a mess of the dig site but just enough to soften some of the harder sections of the matrix surface. It was quite cloudy and a bit chillier when we arrived on site a little after 10am (was delayed posting about day 1). The first order of business was to finish off the very last bit of the grid square we'd been working the previous day. We had a bit of a wall along one edge and the square needed a bit of leveling-off before we were through with it.

In the last bit of material from this grid square I turned up a third alligator osteoderm. This one was not as porcelain white as the two that emerged from this square the day before--this one being more of a caramel tan. See if you can spot it--flat side up--in the first photo. The interesting thing about this one is that the keel along the top of the osteoderm must have been damaged at some point as it was pathologically thick).

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digit

Tammy had been finding lots of garfish ganoid (bony) scales on the first day. She has quite the search image for these and enjoys spotting them in the sifting screen when we are on the Peace River. Today was my turn. I didn't find as many as her but I think I got the largest--twice as big as the rest we had found.

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In addition to the gar scales, we do find occasional fish vertebrae and spines while digging and occasionally paper thin cycloid fish scales. They crumble to pieces with the least bit of handling and are not deemed valuable enough to try to stabilize with consolidant so they are very ephemeral finds.

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We don't seem to find much in the way of shark teeth at this site but given the amount of terrestrial material (elephant and camel) and freshwater (gator and turtle) found at this site, I'm not surprised that there is not as much marine fossils turning up. Did find one tiny Tiger Shark tooth and this little one (likely Lemon Shark) still clinging precariously to a small piece of sandy matrix.

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digit

Alex, one of the students from the university finished undercutting the pedestal of one of the Gomphothere vertebrae that was in his grid square in preparation for jacketing. Instead of using wet toilet paper to protect the top surface of the specimen before jacketing, he was using fine damp sand. I laughed when I learned that toilet paper (TP) was being refereed to as PT for "Paleo Tissue" when I volunteered at Thomas Farm a few years back. Again, bandages pre-loaded with plaster were wetted and draped over the specimen to be jacketed till an appropriate thickness was built-up over the surface. The plaster is left to set and the specimen is then removed to later to be carefully prepped in the lab.

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digit

After we finished leveling our grid square from yesterday, Tammy moved to a nearby square to try her luck there. I moved a bit further away near a large (but juvenile) elephant femur laying diagonally across a couple of grid squares. Dr. Hulbert had wanted me to work one of the adjoining squares so the level of the area around the long bone could be brought down a bit. Before I could begin working my new square I had to do a bit of maintenance at the next square over. Small wire markers with bright orange flags are used to denote the corners of the meter squares and one edge of the square I was going to work bowed into the adjoining square which was much lower. As they keep track of which grid squares specimens are found, the matrix hanging over in the other square needed to be processed separately.

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I took to work straightening the walls between the squares and removing material to make nice straight walls that lined up with the corner markers--something my OCD tendencies relished. While using the small screwdriver to carve a nice cliff face in miniature I uncovered the end of a bone perpendicular to my working plane. After a minute or two of careful matrix removal I was able to free the little bone. This was different from any of my previous finds and as I enjoy the learning experience I make good use of the expert vertebrate paleontologist at hand. I showed this novel bone to Dr. Hulbert and he confirmed my (marginally) educated guess of turtle. He mentioned that the bone was likely part of the snapping turtle's pelvic girdle and that the end with the three concavities on it were where the bone joined others--it was a complete specimen. In the bone bag it went.

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digit

I had just about gotten the overlapping material from this adjoining square removed so that I could move onto my originally assigned square when, while leveling off the bottom, I ran into some turtle material just below the level I was making. My trowel caught a piece of shell and I could detect the tell-tale sound of a bone scrape. I initially thought it only a piece or two but after picking up and bagging a few pieces nearby each other I felt around and could feel a few more sharp edges under the sand nearby which might belong to associated pieces. I'm glad I checked with Dr. Hulbert to verify that this was a larger assemblage (common in that area of the dig he informed me) and stopped bagging the small pieces that pulled free when trying to uncover more to check the extent. Before I made a complete mess of things Dr. Hulbert had me dig down a few inches quite far away from the emerging cluster of turtle shell fragments and slowly work my way back toward the pack till I started hitting shell again.

It took some time to drop the floor of this square another couple of inches and work my way back to the corner where the associated pieces resided. When I first started at the other side of the square I instantly hit more turtle shell which worried and confused me--did this thing span the entire width? I called Dr. Hulbert over and we soon determined by looking at the orientation of these new pieces that they could not be connected with the initial cluster. After a bit of digging only a few pieces of this second mini-cluster of turtle were found (and were bagged separately.

Once I had determined the extent of the first cluster of associated turtle shell pieces (or was afraid to get any closer) I called Dr. Hulbert over again. We could see that one part of the cluster had some large pieces extending through the wall and into the next square. This square originally had some overburden piled on it and the wall was quite high (over a foot). These associated turtle shell pieces weren't coming out till more work was done next door. So with that, he had me cover the pieces with some clean sand and spray on some water to help it adhere. I then covered it with a plastic bone bag and piled on a bit more sand to keep it in place. This find would have to wait its turn before it could be jacketed and removed to the lab.

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jcbshark

That sounds like an awesome trip Ken :) Great pics as always and those are some beautiful colors :D

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digit

While digging up some clean sand to cover the associated turtle shell cluster, my finger felt a hard and smooth surface under the sand. A little cleaning with a brush revealed a bone just revealing itself through the surface. When Dr. Hulbert came over to inspect my progress on the turtle shell for the last time he spotted the bone that I'd cleaned off and quickly probing with his finger and removing sand to find the extent of the bone he was able to pop the bone free. He said it was part of the leg of an alligator. A fun last-minute find before finishing this square and moving back to the adjoining one.

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digit

Meanwhile, Tammy had been having fun in the new square she was working. She hadn't been finding much while starting to work the square from one edge till she got to the corner on the right. There she started spotting bone. She slowly started working around it with a dental pick till much of it was uncovered. To us (i.e. rank novices) the articulated bones looked a lot like large finger bones with convex ends one one side matching to concave ends on the other. We soon learned that this was something quite different--the associated vertebrae of an alligator. Unfortunately, since this articulation soon ended on her side of the square but continued on into the adjoining square, the bones were to be left in place till that square was worked. It makes perfect sense to keep the associated bones together rather than splitting them into two collections based on an arbitrary grid line.

After getting a good look at the bones Tammy had to cover these with clean moist sand and protect it with a bag on top till it could be worked from the other end.

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digit

Tammy moved on from her alligator vertebrae and soon found another interesting specimen. After working for a while she was able to remove a large piece of a camel leg bone which was split in two pieces but clearly matched. Unfortunately, there did not seem to be any additional pieces of this bone nearby and so those two were bagged in a separate smaller bag before being tossed into the overall bone bag for her square.

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digit

I was now finally able to move over to the square I'd been assigned before lunch but was now only getting to work on at nearly 3pm afte being sidetracked with an associated turtle shell while doing some necessary cleanup on the adjoining square. One of the first things I did was to use my trowel to scribe a line in the surface along one edge of my square from one orange flag to the other marking the corners. I was then able to use the little screwdriver to pry up some of the material along the inside of this line to start the excavation of my square starting at this edge.

I was quite amazed to see a thin brown bone pop out of this material--less than a centimeter under the surface. When I picked up the bone I could see it was in good shape (except for a small chip on one end). The curved and slotted surface on one side reminded me of a camelid cannon bone--but much, much smaller. I love finding curious bones that I can't identify because then I get to bother Dr. Hulbert with some questions, hopefully resulting in a tiny lesson learned.

It's a great thing on these volunteer trips to be able to make Dr. Hulbert say, "Ooooooo..." and this bone did just that. It was a bird bone and in surprisingly good condition as these bones are so light and fragile they aren't often recovered this complete. Dr. Hulbert rinsed off the bone and with a dental pick was able to clean out some of the impacted material to be able to show me were the toes articulated on the one end and the hole though which a ligament ran.

Since this was an important enough bone, Dr. Hulbert had me inspect the area where it was found to see if the small missing chip could be located. As it was just a few millimeters long and was not readily visible (even with my reading glasses) he had me bag up the matrix from around the find to be washed later to see if the missing bit was contained within.

After dinner I received an email from Dr. Hulbert confirming his initial thoughts. He said this was from a cormorant and likely may be from Phalacrocorax wetmorei, a species they've seen in the phosphate mines in Polk County.

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Edited by digit

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digit

After a few minutes more of digging in my new square, I turned up another fun find. When I saw it pop out of the loose sandy matrix I instantly had a thought at what it might be but I was sure I'd be mistaken so I brought it over to Dr. Hulbert to once again beg a piece of his substantial knowledge. He said I should know what this was and when I replied, "Hoof core" he nodded.

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I'd uncovered a hoof core from a different species of miniature horse back in 2014 at Thomas Farm. This one was much thinner and so I was sure I'd be wrong and find out it was something like a turtle mandible or something. Glad to know that my little tidbits of knowledge can actually amount to something sometimes. This was a great way to finish off the day. Honestly, the time flies by so quickly that the six and a half hours of field time each day pass in what seems like minutes. Two days down--two days to go for this volunteer fossil hunting trip. More to come tomorrow.

Cheers.

-Ken

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ynot

It will be hard to top this day's finds, :D waiting to see if Y'All can!! :popcorn:

Tony

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Ludwigia

I just tuned in here. You're both obviously in the middle of a great experience. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work! :popcorn:

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digit

It will be hard to top this day's finds, :D waiting to see if Y'All can!! :popcorn:

Tony

Yup. I set a high bar but we'll see what reveals itself today. It's great fun no matter what I find hiding in the matrix. Just for the diversity of experience, it would be fun to find some proboscidean material. Off to breakfast this morning and then back to the site for day 3. Being a weekend we may have more of a crowd today. Quite chilly out this morning but the weather report calls for clear skies and a high temperature of 72. Shaping up to being a picture perfect day.

Cheers.

-Ken

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digit

We returned to the dig site for the third day of volunteer work. It was a clear cold morning that warmed up quickly--perfect weather for sitting outside on the ground digging with screwdrivers and dental picks. Tammy continued her work in the corner of her square which had some alligator verts visible. She managed to uncover additional bones that were likely associated with this same individual. After removing more matrix she called Dr. Hulbert over to see how she should proceed. He grabbed the hose and washed off some of the bones to get a clearer view. He saw two bones that appeared to be matching femurs and several other bones in the cluster. It was decided that the bones would likely not be removed individually as they were fairly brittle and it will probably be jacketed in the next couple of days. So Tammy covered the bones in this corner of her square with plastic bag and worked on other sections of her square.

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digit

While Tammy was busy with her alligator infested square I continued to work on the square that gave up the cormorant leg bone and miniature horse hoof core within the first couple of minutes of digging. Unfortunately, the bulk of the remainder of this grid square turned out to contain little else but sand and clay. The occasional turtle shell fragment turned up here and there but mostly it was a lot of moving sand into yellow plastic kitty litter buckets and trudging it up the hill to the dumping zone for the removed matrix material.

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While using the small trowel to pull together some of the loose matrix material in the bottom of my square I hit something that pulled free from just under the level I had stopped at. Looking like a little brown coin from the underside, I quickly recognized this as another gator osteoderm. When we find these in the Peace River they are quite jet black and usually much worse for the wear having been beaten up quite a bit by the fast flowing water of the river. What a joy it is to see such pristine specimens emerge out of the sandy clay with razor sharp edges and not the least bit of damage on them. And the colors are spectacular as well with this one being a slightly bluish shade of white.

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After this chance find from the floor of the square I fell back into removing sand and clay bit by bit with few distractions. Occasionally, when the screwdriver would make a tell-tale scraping sound that usually foretells a bit of bone under the surface but today it was mostly false alarms caused by some of the small rocky deposits hidden within the sand. Toward the very end of the square I did pop out a small cylindrical bone about the size (and shape) of the tip of my pinky finger. I could tell it was a vertebra but it was oddly shaped. It was the appropriate size for a fish vert but without the concave ends. It didn't look like any of the turtle verts we'd found on the first day and neither did it look like the gator verts I'd seen. It only had one narrow ridge running along one side and both ends had the bumpy appearance where the epiphysis would have attached (and fused in a more mature animal). Dr. Hulbert confirmed that this is mostly restricted to mammal material for the range of species we were likely to find at the site and suggested that it is likely a tail vertebra of one of the small horse species.

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digit

Not my most productive day but I did manage to work the level of my assigned square down to the level needed. There is a lengthy elephant bone running diagonally through several adjoining squares with one end terminating in this square. Before they can finish making the pedestal for jacketing, the level of the surrounding materials needs to be lowered. So while I only found a few interesting pieces today in my mostly empty square, I did make some necessary progress toward getting the elephant leg bone closer to its plaster jacket.

Speaking of plaster jackets, Dr. Hulbert decided it was time to complete the plaster jacket on an articulated juvenile alligator specimen. This specimen has a length of articulated vertebrae terminating in what appears to be a mostly (possibly entirely) complete skull and at least one articulated front leg. The surrounding matrix had been removed to a lower level and the plaster jacket needed to be extended to complete the jacket. It is possible that the other front leg is underneath the rest of the articulated skeleton and so a generous amount of surrounding matrix was being included in the jacket.

The previous jacket had been in place for a couple of weeks so it first had to be brushed off to make a cleaner surface for the plaster to adhere connecting the upper and lower jacket sections. The matrix material around the base was misted with water so as not to draw the moisture out of the plaster too quickly. Instead of using pre-plastered gauzy bandages as were used on smaller jackets, they broke out the big strips of burlap and mixed several batches of plaster. The strips were dunked into the plaster and applied around the entire perimeter till the jacket was complete.Dr. Hulbert was hoping to break the jacketed specimen free from its mount and flip it over for transport but he still needed to clear away some matrix to the proper level next to the specimen so it may be rolled into position. We may get to do that and then, using a cargo net and as many hands as we can muster, drag this thing up the slope of the pit and into a university vehicle for the ride back to the lab. He's estimating this to be between 200-300 pound (100+ kilos) so it will require some personnel to get it out.

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Last day of this trip tomorrow. I've finished my (minimally productive) square and will be moving on to another square tomorrow. Still hopeful that I can get into some proboscidean material before this trip is over. The beauty of fossil hunting is you never quite know what you'll find--and that unpredictability is the essence of what keeps me coming back again and again.

Cheers.

-Ken

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ynot

It is the slow days that make the good ones so much better. Have a good day 4 at the dig!!!

Tony

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digit

Perspective and contrast--you're a wise man, Tony.

Off for breakfast and our last day (for now) on the dig. Then we've a five hour drive back home so likely no postings of this final cliff-hanger day till Monday.

Cheers.

-Ken

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dirtdauber

Great post, Ken. Looking forward to my turn at the site on March 21-22. The bones appear to be much more stable than those at the Thomas Farm. Thanks for posting. -- George

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