Digging Wyoming Dinosaurs!

Today, we take a break from the seemingly endless series of Wyoming Wildilfe, and instead I bring you some non-avian Wyoming dinosaurs.

Bone and tool shed, Dana Quarry, Wyoming

That’s the first dinosaur you will see when you come to Dana Quarry near Ten Sleep, Wyoming. The quarry is famous for the incredibly complete and articulated diplodocid sauropods found there by Henry Galiano (of Maxilla & Mandible in NY fame) and Raimund Albersdörfer (famous for his involvement with [ownership of] the 8th Archaeopteryx specimen, the Daiting specimen). The two run Dinosauria International, a commercial enterprise that sells Dana Quarry dinosaurs. Their website includes a short description of the Quarry, a sale offer for a nearly complete, mounted diplodocid with a really nice skull (check out the photos in the PDF!!!!), a long list of subpages with info on the dinosaurs they found, sorted by genus (link list on the sale offer page, left column – amazing photos in there!), and….. and what purports to be a scientific publication. It is advertised on the home page, and there is a download link for the PDF, too.

Why do I say “purports”? Because it has not seen any peer review, and as much as some of my colleagues hate peer review (here, here and here), it does sort out a lot of papers with major flaws. And it shows a lot of signs of being prepared by amateurs – knowledgeable amateurs, but people lacking in some fundamental categories such as knowledge of the published literature, basic biomechanics, taxonomy, and so forth. See Mike Taylor’s reaction on SV-POW! here. There seems to be an updated version (and who would UPDATE a published paper?), but I haven’t looked at it so far. Suffice to say that the “paper” is full of novel ideas, but lacks rigorous testing of them (which they would not survive – I’ll have something to say on that topic very soon). But the imagery is incredible, so I recommend downloading it anyway.

So much text, I guess it is time for a picture. Here’s one that shows exemplarily how cool Dana Quarry is.

Lookatthat! A row of articulated cervicals, a bunch of semi-articulated
limb elements, some ribs…… that’s another half-complete sauropod right
there, in excellent preservation!

OK, now Dana Quarry is a private and commercial enterprise – what in the name of all palaeo gods was I doing there?

First of all, as much as I dislike the idea of dinosaurs or other fossils vanishing into inaccessible private collections, and as much as the illegal trade in fossils pisses me off (remember the Tarbosaurus stink a short while ago?), there are good guys among the private collectors!

For one thing, “private” is a term often used rather indiscriminately, but if you take a narrow view, even the vaunted AMNH is not a government-run organization, and thus can be considered “private”. Secondly, I know of a bunch of privately owned museums that show fossils owned by a non-profit foundation, so that the commercial success of the museum or its owner doesn’t affect fossil ownership. If the place goes bust, the fossils are not among the bankruptcy assets, and thus won’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder (worst case scenario). They may be in limbo for a while, but there is always the possibility to just permanently loan them to a big institution.

Lastly, we should never forget that a lot of fossils would still be in the ground, undiscovered, or worse eroded away entirely, if it wasn’t for commercial collectors going out there, digging them from the ground, and selling them.

OK, that said, I should now mention that I did not dig for Dinosauria International, but rather for the Sauriermuseum Aathal, who holds a multi-year lease on part of Dana Quarry. The Sauriermuseum is ‘Kirby’ Siber’s place, but is growing into one of the most important dinosaur research collection places in Europe. One of the reasons for this increasing importance is that the SMA is very willing to let researchers not only study material, but often allows destructive sampling techniques such as coring for bone histology studies! And the dinosaurs they have – mostly from the SMA’s own digs, at Howe Quarry and Howe-Stephens-Quarry and now Dana Quarry – are amazing. Some featured here previously (1, 2, 3). I’ve been to a SMA dig before, at Howe-Stephens-Quarry in 2003 – partial report here and here.

So, finally another opportunity to dig, but sadly the fossils shown above do not come from the SMA dig. That looked more like this:

yeah – a few tiny bones, mostly strongly abraded by stream transport, a whole lotta tough sandstone, and loads of dust. Bleh!

But it wasn’t quite as bleak as I just pretended. We did find some nice stuff, and after I left the dig after only 10 days things got better.

Sadly, many bones were found in some reworked layers that had a lot of gypsum running through them – often right through the bone. The small cervical below was split into three parts, the middle one only about 5 mm thick, with some 3 mm of gypsum crystals in the two gaps. AARGH!

and here’s a sauropod ?metatarsal from the same layer – you can see some of the gypsum still on it, and some fragments at the ends are stuck in other rock pieces, because here the gypsum went through the bone.

One other thing we found quite regularly was teeth. Not too many, though. here’s a Camarasaurus tooth for you. Broken, obviously…. teeth are ALWAYS were you put the chisel into the rock, as are bones.

more on the dig in future posts.

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About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy working at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.
This entry was posted in Camarasaurus, Dinosauria, Sauriermuseum Aathal, Sauropoda, Sauropodomorpha, Travels. Bookmark the permalink.

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