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Excavation Journal

June 11, 2001: What a Difference a Month Makes

By Art Ferraro

Lemitchel King, our summer intern, and I drove up last night from Phoenix. Lemitchel is from Oklahoma and it is his first time both in Utah and on a dinosaur excavation. We met paleontologist Dave Gillette and Museum of Northern Arizona summer intern Nikki Hemmesch at the rendzevous point and hiked the mile back into the site. Last time I had been on that trail it was snowing and we were trying not to get caught by the bad weather. But today it was in the 90s. Funny how a month can make a difference.

Upon arriving at the excavation, the first thing I noticed was that so much work had been done in the last few weeks. What was once hard sandstone and fossils now looked more like a bomb crater with a couple of large white chunks of rock in it. Those white chunks I later found out were the actual fossils that had been carved out of the ground and then plastered for protection. After getting some initial video and film we proceeded to watch Dave and Nikki "shave" off some of the rock that was remaining on the largest piece. It was about 450 lbs., which was much too heavy for the trailer, let alone the human help we would have available to move it tomorrow. So with hammer and chisel, Nikki started slowly and carefully cutting away excess rock.

Dave and Nikki had to be careful not to cut into any bone, or into the newfound dinosaur skin layer while they were lightening the load. This process took probably 45 minutes of hard labor. Once they had gone as far as they dared, they broke out the burlap and plaster and proceeded to cap the newly exposed rock for transport. This would provide protection during handling and the long journey to Flagstaff.

Next they surveyed the other fossil loaded rock pieces and decided to finish covering some of the last large chunks with more plaster and burlap before putting away their materials for the last time. After that, Lemitchel and I saw the palentologists pull out their important field notes to log the day's activities and make sure all the rock segments were well labeled and accounted for.

Before we left for the day, Dave wanted to do a little moving of some of the pieces, so we got a tarp and folded it a couple of times and placed it under the rock. This one we "jacketed" rock speciem was almost 300 lbs and would take all of us to move. And I thought a television camera was heavy! Of course, with all hands on the tarp struggling against mass and gravity, there was nobody to document the event.

Let's just say that Lemitchel learned that day the meaning of "other duties as assigned" in his job description. But he wasn't complaining. He was actually very excited to be on the dig. It was a long way from his life and daily experiences back in Oklahoma and the classroom.

As we packed up and headed out on the one-mile hike back to the vehicles, we all agreed that today was a success. And more importantly we knew that tomorrow would be the day we finally wrapped up the dig and brought the Hadrosaur to its new home. We'll let you know how tomorrow goes, so stay tuned.



Nikki Hemmesch is a senior Natural Sciences major at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. She's spending the summer working for the Museum of Northern Arizona on dinosaur excavations and surveys.

Lemitchel King is a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major at Langston College in Langston, Oklahoma. He is currently in BLM's STEP program and will be working this summer for BLM NTC's Video Services Unit.