Peabody Fossil Hunter

Sunday, July 3

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2011 at 4:34 am

Our first day in Marmarth, North Dakota, we headed out for the day to Camel Butte, known as “Rattlesnake Butte” by locals for the den of snakes that gathers there in the fall.

This fossil locality, in Fallon County, Montana, is made up of the Hell Creek (Cretaceous) and Fort Union (Paleocene) geologic formations, which house fossils from around the time of the extinction event. A thin band of rock marks the end of the Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, which we refer to as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary.

Past expeditions have uncovered a wealth of fossils from the Cretaceous, such as extinct rodent-like mammals and Triceratops, and the Paleocene, like primitive hoofed mammals called “condylarths.” Multituberculates survived the impact; condylarths did not appear until after it. Turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and fish survived throughout. The site has an incredible amount of early Paleocene fossils. This year we’re hoping to find more.

Today, one group prospected for fossils near the base of the butte, winding through the creek bed while scanning the ground. They found a surprisingly complete hadrosaur, a large dinosaur with a wide tail and snout shaped like a duckbill. They also found a therapod, a meat-eating dinosaur that ran on two legs. We’ve also found a lot of vertebrae from the crocodile-like champsosaur (below).

The other group crawled around near the top of the butte, looking for more recent Paleocene (and much smaller) mammals. The crawl did not yield much, but we filled bags of dirt to take back to the lab for sifting.  We mostly found fragments of turtle shell, crocodile teeth, and the scales of garfish, all of which were lived in the swampy waters that used to cover the land.

We also found a horny toad.

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