VMNH Wyoming Dinosaur Dig 2016
After a three week field season in northern Wyoming, the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) and Lynchburg College (LC) crews are back to Virginia, loaded with newly excavated dinosaur bones! The Jurassic quarry (about 140 million years old) has been worked for several years now, led by LC professor Dr. Brooke Haiar. This year, the crew found more pieces of a skeleton of one of the largest land animals ever, a sauropod dinosaur. Earlier work from the previous excavations showed that tail vertebrae from the skeleton seemed similar to Apatosaurus, a long-necked dinosaur that could get up to 75 feet in length. Interestingly, the bones seem to be from an adult, but are quite a bit smaller than typical adult Apatosaurus bones. The fossils may instead indicate a new species of dinosaur, which would be very exciting for the VMNH and LC crews!
Excavations require a lot of hard work and time, but the results are often more than worth the effort and I'm extremely proud of what our crew was able to accomplish. Dinosaur bones are often taken from the field by digging around the bone and creating a pedestal. Excavators then jacket the bone and surrounding dirt in plaster, which creates a hard protective shell for the fossil that fits it exactly, called a plaster jacket. This summer, the crew brought back 17 of these plaster jackets loaded with bones from one sauropod dinosaur, as well as several other wrapped and bagged sauropod fossils. Bone by bone, the team is filling in the gaps in the skeleton, with each one providing important information for how this animal lived and walked through its ancient world. The Jurassic was a fascinating time in Earth’s history, when dinosaurs first reached truly gigantic proportions.
Every fossil taken from the field needs quite a lot of work in the lab in order to remove all the sediment and stabilize it so that it will not fall apart. This process takes months, and for a skeleton as large as a sauropod, this will take even longer. However, it will all be worth it when the team has (hopefully) the better part of a sauropod dinosaur skeleton here in the VMNH collection, with the very real potential to teach us new things about our ancient world. All fossil preparation will be done in full view of the public in our fossil laboratory at the museum. The team will be putting signs up to let visitors know which bones are being worked on at any given moment.
We're also looking for help with the dinosaur lab work! If you’re in the Martinsville area and would like to volunteer, please contact our fossil preparator, Ray Vodden at email@example.com.
We documented the entire dig on the museum's Facebook page, with images and videos. I encourage you to click here and check it out!
- Dr. Alex Hastings