Hunting For Dinosaur Fossils and Footprints
In the urban environment of Arlington, Texas we were excavating the lower part of a ridge within sight of the Dallas Cowboys Stadium for fossils of dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles and other life forms that lived about 95 million years ago near the shores of an ancient sea. This was the first full day for the six EARTHWATCH INSTITUTE volunteers and we hadn’t found much in the first hour, when three local high school students walked into the site. They were taking summer classes and their teacher asked them to contact the Principal Investigator, Derek Main, to learn something about paleontology. Derek gave them some basic instruction and put them next to me. Caitlin, class of 2014, was having some problems getting started so I suggested she work on a small ledge that I had cleared of overburden. After about 10 minutes she asked me to look at some objects she had uncovered. Amazingly, one of them was bone! Another turned out to be a large piece of petrified wood, but she was really excited and vowed to come back the next Sunday!
The EARTHWATCH expedition was WHEN ARCHOSAURS ATTACKED AND REPTILES RULED TEXAS in August of 2012 with research scientists Derek Main and Chris Noto. It was really hot with temperatures reaching as high as 107F, but we were in an open area where there was a breeze and had moveable canopies so could work in the shade. We drank lots of water and left the site by 1:00 in the afternoon for indoor lab work on microscopic organisms. Two of us were seniors, 78 and 80, but we handled the heat fine! Most of the fossils were in the lower layer of peat, shale and organic matter such as petrified wood and charcoal from ancient forest fires. It split apart readily so digging with a trowel was easy. Once we got going we found a lot of turtle shell and bone; crocodile scutes, bone and teeth; dinosaur bone and various coprolites. Others found two crocodile skulls and a student next to me found a large piece of dinosaur leg bone. Most of the turtle shell had crocodile bite marks.
On our day off Derek took us to Dinosaur Valley State Park at Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth, to see the footprints and tracks of sauropods, theropods, hadrosaurs and other dinosaurs that walked in the limestone mud about 100 million years ago in what is now a riverbed. In times of low water hundreds of tracks are exposed. We were lucky to find James Farlow, a leading authority on dinosaur tracks, there with a crew making casts of some of the prints. He very graciously offered to show us around the sites and we were amazed at the number of footprints and how well they have been preserved!
These deep impression footprints were different from those on another EARTHWATCH expedition I had done several years ago – DINOSAUR FOOTPRINTS at Scarborough, England was a study of 175 million year old dinosaur footprints along the seacoast of the North Yorkshire Moors between Scarborough and Whitby. It was a low-lying swampy area where Middle Jurassic dinosaurs walked and their tracks filled with sand which hardened into casts. Since then, the land was uplifted and now these casts are becoming exposed in the cliffs and falling off along the shore. Our work involved hiking and climbing down steep cliffs but I was much younger then and handled it easily! Most prints were casts but some were imprints in the bedrock. We mapped them, made drawings and photos and collected the smaller ones. The casts of the sauropod prints with huge toes were very impressive! And, I enjoyed our evenings in Scarborough down at the local pub for a pint and a game of darts!
Back at Arlington, on our last day I made several finds including a large piece of dinosaur joint bone, a perfect turtle vertebrae and a very nice coprolite! And, Caitlin did come back the next Sunday and found more bone and two crocodile teeth so I think she is hooked on paleontology!