Fossil hunting on the open terrain

A typical work day for us begins with a nice morning jog (well, mostly by myself). After a quick breakfast and a meeting on the goals for the day, we set out to reach the target field area.

(breakfast in a local town)

Most of regions we work in are large basins. Trails are often far and few in between, so creative driving is often required to reach hilly sites.

(a muddy trail doesn't stop a good photo op)

(a dirt trail could lead to unexpected dead-ends; luckily we caught the dam on a dry day)

Once we get to an area that looks promising (based on its geology and topography), we set a time line for the day's work. If the terrain looks treacherous, we will pack individual lunches and split up for the day. Otherwise, we report back to the vehicles at lunchtime for the expedition leaders to evaluate potential for discovery, and whether to move on to a different site in the afternoon.

(Zhada Basin, near the foot of the Himalaya mountains; the terrain ranges from rolling hills to steep cliffs. One could spend anywhere from 20 minutes to half a day walking from one hill to the next)

(the fish-rich site of Naoge; the fossils are so concentrated that there is little need for strenuous hikes)

Our day packs are often stuffed with enough water for both drinking and making field jackets using plaster bandages if we find delicate specimens. In addition to the default GPS, rock hammer, acryloid hardener, brushes, awls, field notebooks, and occasional geologic maps, we also bring extra clothes in anticipation of unpredictable weather. A few of us are also equipped with two-way radios in case communication between sub-groups is needed.

(typical warm-weather attire for Jack)

(Yuki Tomida [National Science Museum, Tokyo, Japan] scans the surface for small mammal fossils [more in next part of the series])

Mammal and fish fossils, our main foci, usually weather out as fragments on the plateau; the more complete specimens are often fragile, and thus require care and time to extract using plaster bandages.

(a pair of antelope lower jaws weathering out of a hill in Zhada Basin, Tibet)

(a very fragmentary but important specimen: the first hyena cranium found in Tsaidam Basin, Qinghai Province [you are looking at its teeth])

(a typical plaster jacket; this one contains fish remains from the Naoge area in Tsaidam Basin)

At the end of the day, before we begin a long drive back to our camp / village, we often splurge ourselves on watermelons. They are excellent snacks for fieldwork, and are priced items that we reserve vehicle luggage space for (at the expense of other valuable things like gasoline).

(crew members "slaughter" a watermelon to celebrate a good workday under our belts)

The next in the series will be Part III: screen washing for microfossils


Liu Juan said...

It is a very good idea to record fossil expeditions.

leslie g said...

Great blog! Its fun to see the rigors of your work as well as your daily life in the field. I'm at home with a new baby and its refreshing for me to have reminders of the fun things about my job at the Museum.