Montana/North Dakota 2005-2007
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Since 2005, the Yale Peabody Museum’s Division of Vertebrate Paleontology has sent expeditions to North Dakota and Montana to prospect and collect fossils from the end of the “Age of Dinosaurs” and the beginning of the “Age of Mammals.”  In this photo, from left, Lee Roach, Marilyn Fox, Kanvaly Bamba, Walter Joyce and Alison Logan gear up to spend the day hunting for fossils.

The explored land is, for the most part, untouched and undeveloped. In addition to fossils, the crew encounters an abundance of wildlife and many spectacular geologic structures. In this photo, Alison Logan and Walter Joyce examine a sandstone projection formed by erosion.

Sometimes, prospectors hike many miles before reaching exposed buttes yielding fossils. Fossils are either found weathering directly out of the buttes’ sandy walls or washed out in the basins that surround the buttes. Here, Brian Roach and Walter Joyce make their way toward the exposed areas in hopes of finding something to bring back to the Peabody.

Alison Logan marks an accumulation of fossil fragments cascading down the wall of a butte. At one time, these small pieces fit together to form a continuous fossilized bone. Because the bone here has been heavily damaged by erosion and exposure, it is difficult to distinguish its origin, although it is clear that it once belonged to a dinosaur.

These bones are still situated safely in the ground, away from the damaging elements, and remain articulated. Articulated bones hold their positions from when the animal died until they are discovered millions of years later. Paleontologists learn an animal’s appearance and modes of locomotion by studying articulated fossil bones.

This specific fossil was found at a poached site, one in which individuals illegally excavated fossils from public land without permission. Not only did they steal public property, they severely damaged and dismembered what could have been a very beautiful hadrosaurid skeleton.

There is a long process between finding a fossil and getting it back to the Museum. Here, Marilyn Fox carefully has uncovered two fossils using soft brushes to see how far they extend into the ground. She is cautious to avoid breaking off any loose pieces and secures the delicate fossil with glue.

After a fossil rib is exposed, Walter Joyce and Lee Roach carefully dig around it and begin the jacketing process. Like a doctor molding a cast around a broken bone, they cover the delicate material in damp tissues, followed by wet, plastered sections of burlap. As the plaster and burlap dry around the fossil, they create a protective barrier that holds the fossil in its exact position for removal. Once the top side is completely covered and dry, Walter and Lee carefully flip the jacket and do the same to the underside.

Once the entire jacket dries with fossil and earth packed securely inside…

….and the whole bundle is carted back to the field vehicle, to be eventually opened back at the Yale Peabody Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory for study.

Brian Roach stumbles on this spectacular pachycephalosaur skull fragment. Almost entirely intact, the fossil was excavated to be studied further at the Yale Peabody Museum Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory.

Whenever fossils are found, paleontologists record the exact place where they were found. Back at camp, all fossils are organized, catalogued and stored until they can be analyzed back at the Museum.

Sometimes fossil fragments are easily identifiable out in the field. This is a textbook toe bone fragment found in the badlands of Montana.

The 2006 Yale Peabody Museum field crew. Back row from left: Walter Joyce, Kanvaly Bamba, and Brian Roach. Front row from left: Alison Logan, Marilyn Fox, Vicki Fitzgerald and Lee Roach.

The Yale Peabody Museum’s 2007 field crew. From left: James Simmons , Alison Logan, Marilyn Fox, Jacob McCartney, Brian Roach and Walter Joyce. More 2007 updates to come!