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basal mosasaur excavation- a follow up

Jared C


Hey all! It's good to be back and writing a trip report again - I've certainly been busy this summer.


As some of you may recall, my step brother and I found a basal mosasaur in September of 2021. I haven't spoken much about it publicly, but rest assured it hasn't been forgotten! Research and preparation of the specimen is reaching a fever pitch this summer, both of which I'm happy to say I'm actively involved in. The reason for the silence has been to avoid leaking details that might scoop our paper. 



This year at A&M I'm participating in a grant for science communication, and because of this I have permission to show a little more about our animal now, since it's research is the subject of my internship with SMU right now.


So! What's been happening with the mosasaur since the last trip report of it (below)? 



Here is the very abbreviated continuation...



January 2022:

On a whim, I decided to return to the site - just in case we missed anything. It felt almost foolish to hope for more, considering we already had a significant amount of skull material and a few verts. I came in with no expectations. 


I did not take long to see more of the animal. I started working several feet away from the pit we had dug, with the idea to work inwards, but instead almost immediately found the terminal vertebrae of the tail.... in near perfect articulation:default_faint:


Below: Four vertebrae with haemal arches locked together (several are shrouded by a white layer of paraloid b-72)





Realizing what I had, I strenuously chopped a trench out around the block with three chisels and a rock hammer, then somehow lifted the entire thing and walked back the distance to my car. Here it sat below:





One year later, these terminal verts were prepped. I think they are spectacular.




Let's zoom back to the moment though...


I realized we now had both ends of the animal - the back of the skull from September, and the end of the tail from today. Where was the middle? I called Christian (my step brother) and let him know what I found, telling him that we had to attack the site together again to see what more there could be.


The following weekend we did just that, expanding our pit until eventually were were met with this sight:




This was huge, and we realized we had potential for the entire animal being buried here now. I called up the researchers at SMU i had just connected with, and was instructed to glue the block back into place until a more formal excavation could carry out. 


Months pass.

Multiple attempts at resuming the excavation professionally are made, each falling flat due to unlucky weather or last minute personal commitments. This string of bad luck continued until one day in October...



October 2022


Realizing we might not reach years end with an excavation, the folks at SMU suggested I borrow some power tools for the weekend and conduct one on our own. 

Christian unfortunately couldn't make it, since he had just moved to Washington. Despite his absence, I constructed the best team I could think of.. @JohnJ, @LSCHNELLE, and my dad. 


For an entire day we happily slaved. I took absolute loads of photos and videos, to avoid the same configuration confusions the SMU folks and I have encountered already. John's experience is the stuff of folk legends, and he has performed many excavations on his own finds before, while Lee practically has Eagle Ford shale running through his veins. Their presence proved to be invaluable and I will never be able to thank them enough.


It was an epic hail-mary to undertake in a single day, but we finally extracted the bulk of the animal in several large blocks. I still can't share photos of diagnostic bones, but here are some images from the day below:



From left: My dad, John, and I making a trench. 



Below: An unusual symphyseal ptychodus tooth found while trenching:




As the day neared an end, our pace picked up - we were on a serious time crunch and had to make it out of the site soon. With 30 minutes to spare, we all together lifted one of the final slabs and were met with a sight that can hardly be described with words...




Lying before us was a pair of dentaries, in amazing condition apart from where the slab split them. Fortunately, the damage is not irreversible - the part and counter-part fit back together absolutely perfectly. 


Part and counter-part, below:






The site, after the end of a long day. Four exhausted, fulfilled men walked away from here. 




Fast forward to this spring, were I got accepted in a science communication grant program, allowing me to take the research of this mosasaur to new levels with my mentor at SMU. By the end of the summer, we strive to have an abstract for our paper. The work is building to a breakneck pace, but I love and it's what I hoped for...


until next time!


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