Peabody Fossil Hunter

Sunday, July 10

In Uncategorized on July 10, 2011 at 5:20 am

We’ve collected over 20 buckets of surface soil after a week of prospecting at the Hoff Ranch and Camel Butte. Each one of us can carry about four liters of matrix at a time, packed into army backpacks that we hike down slopes and grasslands back to the car. Prospecting and collecting, though, is just the first step. Next, we must sift through all the material.

Hiking backpacks of soil back down from Camel Butte.

After soaking out the mud and roots in a basin outfitted with bubbling PVC pipes, we spread the remaining mix to dry on tarps. Once that has dried, we sit down to pick, scooping it onto trays. Armed with steel dental tools, we sort through it piece by piece, separating out rock from bone.

Finding tiny fossils requires getting up close to the filtered pebbly matrix.

The pebbles and dried clay in the Camel Butte matrix prove straightforward to sort out. The Hoff Ranch matrix, on the other hand, is full of small chunks of coal–black and shiny, they look just like mammal teeth. The process takes a lot of patience. We’re looking for bones and teeth that can be smaller than oat grains and as thin as the tines of a fork. After hours of picking, our eyeballs start to cross. Nonetheless, we emerged from an afternoon of picking with a handful or two of recognizable fossils, among them a few tiny mammal teeth and a piece of a femur as thin as a toothpick.

The final product: the tiny upper premolar of a condylarth.

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