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digit

I've written trip reports before about volunteering with the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) at their various dig sites in Florida. The currently (very) active site is called Montbrook for a small town that used to be in the area (but is no more). Here are a few links from FLMNH which provide some contextual information about the site:

 

https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/museum-voices/montbrook/

https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/sites/mont/

https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/museum-voices/montbrook/2016/09/07/why-montbrook/

 

The site has yielded an impressive number of specimens and is very important scientifically as it provides the best view of Florida fauna from the late Hemphillian (Hh4) North American Land Mammal Age (NALMA) from approximately 5.5-5.0 mya. The other significant locality for this age is the Palmetto Fauna a couple hundred miles south of the Montbrook site. More info here for those interested in the stratigraphy:

 

https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/land-mammal-ages/hemphillian/

https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/florida-vertebrate-fossils/sites/palmetto-fauna/

 

Here is a link to my Montbrook posting from 2016 showing the couple of times I managed to get out there--the last time with TFF members Daniel @calhounensis and John-Michael @Brown Bear:

 

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/63056-volunteer-dig-with-the-flmnh/

 

Now, enough of the links and time for a few pictures! The Montbrook site has changed quite a bit over the last year since I've been able to get out there. We had plans to return to Montbrook last October but Hurricane Matthew was an uninvited guest to Florida that week and the dig site was tarped down and the dig cancelled. Thankfully, the hurricane left my house untouched (didn't really even get rain or wind of note) and didn't mess-up the Montbrook site but we did miss an opportunity for one last trip to Montbrook in 2016. When we returned in February 2017 it took some time to get my bearings. The deeper pit to the east where several gomphothere skulls, tusks and long bones had been removed did not weather the rainy season well. This section has been backfilled with about 5 feet of sand and clay from the higher levels during the summer rain storms. For now they will concentrate digging on the main pit to the west and hope to get back to the lower "elephant" layer some time in the future--though the prep work to remove the overburden and get back to the original level will be significant. So much material has been moved from the upper western dig area that it was hard to picture exactly where we had dug nearly a year ago. I'm still not quite sure where we were in 2016 as the site has evolved greatly since our last visit.

 

On Thursday and Friday there were mostly just a few volunteers who could make it to the site on weekdays--mainly retired folks or those with flexible schedules like us who could volunteer during the week. On Saturday there were a lot more volunteers and the dig site became a bit more crowded so you had to be aware of others digging sometimes in the grid square adjacent to yours. Here are some overall site photos I took on Saturday and you can see the line-up of cars that brought a full capacity of volunteers.

 

P2110530.jpg.6488a5509d2f5d3ebdd9e51aba247a2a.jpg     P2110526.jpg.fa117ec75aa3300a86be9f567bdbd54e.jpg

 

P2110529.jpg.bcd9dc3a55bb6bc11fd3c7c699d50f4b.jpg     P2110524.jpg.d2d5c1caf6fd820e5cab13a9af774a0a.jpg

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digit

On Thursday and Friday we were assigned 1m x 1m grid squares toward the east edge of the pit (you can see the little orange flags used to demarcate the corners of the grid squares). There were a few squares that had not been brought down to an even level when the previous volunteer working the square had to leave (or at the end of the day's dig). We initially flattened out our assigned squares and did a bit of clean-up--having slight OCD tendencies can be a benefit at a dig site like this. ;)

 

Once I had my square leveled out I then proceeded to take the level of this square down to match the level of the adjoining grid square. Keeping things level reduces the amount of erosion due to rains. It had rained the day before we showed up on Thursday. This made the last stretch of unpaved road to the pit impossible to drive (soft sticky clay) and we had to park a hundred yards or so away. It did make the sand and clay easier to dig through with our little flat-blade screwdrivers that we use to excavate our squares. Here are some photos from the first days making things level including one with Tammy, head down and busy scooping up the matrix for removal (in kitty litter pails).

 

P2090456.jpg.cc2749b39839c30f9c7d849e895fcf63.jpg     P2090457.jpg.5952679d0844cc4e87621a18d12b207d.jpg

 

P2090447.jpg.c7f6ea14dd5adda26573a2042374e1e2.jpg     P2100477.jpg.84e2901779fe56383056c5b106930908.jpg

 

The layer that we were working on the first two days was actually just at/above the start of the fossil material. This topmost layer starts to show alligator and turtle fossils and sits above more fossiliferous layers below. The only way to get down to those layers is to go through the upper layers. We didn't find a whole lot during the weekdays but there were a few interesting finds among all that sand and clay. Here's an interesting vert (likely large fish) and a small bone (probably turtle).

 

P2090451.jpg.5b529842e12873caf34f061d9bcd33ac.jpg     P2100467.jpg.6ca8f216c9c26f27e1cb604f287a4075.jpg

 

There are at least three species of turtles found at this site including the very common Trachemys (pond slider), the larger Macrochelys (alligator snapping turtle), and the very distinctive Apalone (soft-shell turtle). Here are some isolated fragments of turtles that turned up:

 

P2100470.jpg.87c2b8119719273ae24dda627ce9c963.jpg     P2110488.jpg.075411d1c7b40edb17205d9bf21c462e.jpg     P2100468.jpg.2a8b585b7b8c83eeb667ee74bd397658.jpg

 

As I got toward the last corner of the square I was taking down a level, I started breaching the level where turtle and gator pieces were becoming more common. This neat little specimen popped out and looked pretty cool once I had brushed it off--a nice little gator vert:

 

P2100471.jpg.45bcb516892ba16c361724366008ba8b.jpg     P2100473.jpg.b0d57d58766acc6c1e32907776a3844a.jpg

 

Tammy's square had turned into nothing but a very soft sugar sand. it was still slightly damp from the previous rains and it crumbled away with little effort from the screwdriver used to excavate the squares. It had been a long time since she had pulled up anything other than sand other than the occasional gar ganoid scale or fish spine. She found something larger but couldn't figure out if it was something of interest or not. She handed it to me and I brushed it off. I told her that she could no longer say she hadn't found snarge (I actually typed that as "snarge" BTW) in her grid as she had uncovered a coprolite--likely gator. Her first ichnofossil from the site.

 

P2090454.jpg.f915236caa44da8cfeb431a0692a68a1.jpg

 

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PFOOLEY

Good show, Ken...I always enjoy your well documented adventures...congrats on the promotion to the herp layer :) ...thanks for sharing.

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digit

My task on Saturday was to work a square nearby the gomph tooth and leg bone where Cindy was working but higher up. I was able to sit on a bit of a ledge of the square next to these gomph specimens and so had to be real cautious when moving my feet or walking around. The layer we were in with lots of turtle and gator has also proven to turn up some interesting micro-fossils. Micro-matrix from other layers mostly turns up just small fish, shark and ray teeth, fish spines, and gar ganoid scales but the layer we were at has turned up interesting tiny mammal (vole, rat, shrew, etc) and amphibian (frog, salamander, siren) bones so we were bagging the matrix removed from here for later screen washing back at the university lab.

 

My square had a large hump in one corner that had been left by the previous volunteer working this grid. I could see turtle shell bits emerging from the edges and so I knew there would be some turtle to be found in this small lump of material to be removed--on the order of 1' x 1'. This layer was a mixture of more dense clay and a more coarse gravely sand. This type of matrix at the site is known to produce interesting fossils so we go through it slower and more methodically. The lighter fluffier sugar sand that we were digging in the previous days rarely has fossils and can be worked at an increased speed to remove it in a more time efficient manner. Due to the clay in the section I was digging, the matrix gets quite hard and concrete like when dry. Luckily, we have a water source at the site (a large water barrel with hoses snaking down into the digging pit). I filled an empty water bottle (need to keep hydrated properly while digging) and dripped on small amounts of water to the sunbaked sections of the hardened matrix. Within seconds the rehydrated matrix softens and can be easily worked away. It only took a few minutes of digging this section before the first turtle shell emerged. I quickly switched from screwdriver to dental probe as it became apparent that what I had uncovered was the other end of a mostly intact turtle shell that I had seen peeking out from the edge of the hump I was working down.

 

I continued to work around this shell and could soon see it was most of the carapace side of a Trachemys turtle shell. Unfortunately, a good portion of this upper shell was missing. On any other dig site this would be a highly-prized specimen and a jacket would be made for this fossils which would be carefully prepared back in the lab. This site, however, produces so many complete or nearly complete turtle shells that damaged specimens cannot be given the same attention that they would at other sites. The square next to me being worked by a UF student named Natasha had three nearly complete turtle shells within inches of each other. These specimens were stabilized with a hardener and are waiting to be removed either separately or as one large block. My specimen due to the missing components of the upper carapace was to be "chunked out" and rebuilt like a puzzle back in the lab some day. The university has a large storage unit to hold specimens that will keep volunteers in the prep room busy for years--decades maybe!

 

I used this specimen to work on my skills of locating the edges of the specimen and clearing the area as if it were to be jacketed. But then I started to undercut it as this was to be taken out in chunks and bagged as an associated set of fossils.

 

P2110487.jpg.aa0b0514722a2d1fee4613bfbb515c9f.jpg     P2110501.jpg.133ff90fee4a9dd7bfdf0c0638f74134.jpg

 

P2110508.jpg.e502d264c20f7e4ba5eefca2ed2ec11c.jpg     P2110510.jpg.6081f5a56b02823a7f162441eebe12a0.jpg

 

The plastron on the underside of the specimen was still in pretty good shape. I continued to remove the coarse gravelly matrix from under the shell until I had a "flying turtle" specimen. When it was attached by just a small portion of the edge it was possible to remove just enough more so that the entire piece was freed. It took a couple of extra hands to fit this into the specimen bag which was just barely wide enough to accommodate it. Some of the looser pieces crumbled off but I was happy that I was able to chunk this out in as few pieces as possible.

 

P2110511.jpg.5dab27dfa6b5273d3e52563825cce0db.jpg     P2110513.jpg.7c268b1dfa85f7c87a60141edf68452a.jpg     P2110515.jpg.4bbb608aea8acfebd95cb0ffca756352.jpg

 

P2110516.jpg.e8d6c8d07c4d1dc6ec7003d964b2501e.jpg     P2110519.jpg.c8891c0e41bbae01839c2f8fa4ddab43.jpg

 

 

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ynot

:dinothumb::wub::popcorn:

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ynot

Very nice report Ken.

Thanks for sharing the experience!

Tony

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FossilDudeCO

Thanks for sharing Ken.

This looks like quite the experience!

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digit

I enjoy volunteering with FLMNH. It is an opportunity to participate at a world-class fossil locality with a chance to discover some interesting and important specimens. Recently, an awesome skull from an early saber tooth cat was found at the site. When I was at Montbrook last year I probably walked right over the ground where this skull was found--what else is just under the surface waiting to be revealed?

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

 

 

 

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dirtdauber

Great report, Ken! I'll be there for 3 days in March (Mar.14-16). Dug there once last year and looking forward to returning. -- George

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digit

I remember meeting you at Thomas Farm but I don't think our paths crossed at Montbrook. I'll be out of town when you'll be there so we'll miss each other again. I've heard that FLMNH is focused on getting as much material from Montbrook as soon as they can and so are skipping the Thomas Farm digging season this year. They have been digging at the Thomas Farm site for decades and since they own the property there is no rush to complete the site any time soon. Montbrook is on private property and though the property owner is quite happy with the progress of the dig and enjoys knowing that it is a very important site providing an unparalleled glimpse into the animals of that age in Florida, they are still there only due to the generosity of the land owner. There is no guarantee that things will not change in the future and so FLMNH is trying to make the most of the time they have--which is why they are digging there six days a week.

 

The site has already produced a large amount of specimens that will keep volunteers busy prepping finds for years after the dig has ceased. It is a great opportunity to volunteer on an important dig site and gain experience in a more scientific method of fossil hunting than sifting ex situ gravel from the Peace River. The digging is relatively easy as the matrix is soft sand and clay and the only tools needed are a flat blade screwdriver and a dental probe for close-up work near more delicate fossils. It has been a dream since childhood to dig with scientists on an important site. While my childhood dreams may have involved me uncovering articulated T-rex skulls, I'll settle for useful specimens coming out of Montbrook (seeing as Florida is virtually devoid of dino material). Montbrook is very productive and easy to work and TFF members in the area should make the effort to get out there and give it a go.

 

https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/vertpaleo/volunteering/field/

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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MarleysGh0st

The Spring 2018 season is currently under way at Montbrook, continuing through May 13, so I'm bringing this thread forward to ask if any other Fossil Forum folk will be participating in this dig.  I've decided to make it part of a "Spring Break" in Florida; I'm signed up for March 14-18.

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digit

I've been wanting to get up there for a few months now but have been saddled with other activities demanding my time. I'll definitely make the time to get up there soon (after some travel) and I'll put those dates on the calendar as a possible chance for a meet-up. Montbrook is great fun and I encourage those in Florida or beyond to make the effort to go do some scientific volunteer digging. It's a great experience that'll provide some great memories. Take lots of photos and post your experience here to encourage others.

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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dirtdauber
6 hours ago, MarleysGh0st said:

The Spring 2018 season is currently under way at Montbrook, continuing through May 13, so I'm bringing this thread forward to ask if any other Fossil Forum folk will be participating in this dig.  I've decided to make it part of a "Spring Break" in Florida; I'm signed up for March 14-18.

 

I'll be there March 21-23, my third trip. Hope you leave a few good'uns for me. -- George

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