Paleo day 1 – prospecting and poop saunas

By Kaylee, Sophie, and Will

To get to our first day of Paleo, we drove 1.5 hours to get to our digging site. Big Horn Basin is uniquely positioned between the Pryors and the Beartooth Mountains. When geological basins form, rock and sediment on the mountain are the oldest in the area, while those in the center of the basin are the youngest. For paleontology, this means that bones and fossils further up the mountain–in the older sections–will progressively travel down the slope of the valley they are in. Eventually, they come to rest in the youngest part of the basin, allowing for easy collection. Big Horn is one of the most accessible fossil locations in the world, maintaining all the key components to easy recovery. The arid landscape is very exposed and can be worked with, as opposed to oceanic or mountainous landscapes. Additionally, the location is dated back to the Jurassic period, where the biome was the complete opposite to what it is today. Such an area is prolific in fossil discoveries because of its lush nature.

In the field, scientist Jason Poole showed us some of the most important jobs in paleontology. These range from prospecting the area to find new dig sites to casting the found bones in plaster. Paleontologists follow a specific, delicate protocol to ensure the safety of these important discoveries. Our job was the former, which required lots of water and patience. We were instructed to look for anything “out of the ordinary”, but everything in the desert looks completely homogenous. The heat was nearly unbearable under the zero trees, so Rosie made sure to remind us like five year olds to drink lots of water and reapply sunscreen every single minute. I drank four friggin liters of water and I was still too afraid to pee in the aptly named “poop sauna”. 

While there’s a bunch of fun things to do while looking for fossils in the Field there’s some dangers that you should be aware of. One of those dangers are the animals. One of the animals that you should look out for is either rattlesnakes. The second one are the plants. Now some of the plants don’t do anything but I mainly cactus and there small so there easy to miss so make sure you are wearing long pants and boots. The final thing is heat stroke. The weather out in the field is extremely hot, so it’s easy to get a heat stroke if you aren’t careful. An important item to bring is water at least 2 liters worth an make sure your constantly drinking.

Finding fossils in the Bighorn Basin!

Now the important thing to look for is in the field is rocks. Now the reason why this is important is because I learned that it’s important to constantly look because some fossils and rocks look the same. Also look for fossils that are near slopes and by sand stones. Now it’s also important to look for dangers such as rattles snakes and cactus. If you just keep a look out for this stuff you should have a fun time looking for fossils.
In the end, we inhaled a lot of sunscreen and got so, so, so dirty that we had to exfoliate with a metal sponge.

Finding fossils in the Bighorn Basin

The drive home with Rosie is always the best part of the day. Unfortunately, today Rosie decided to be lazy and not drive home. She literally hates our music so much that she stayed in the desert with the rattlesnakes instead of driving home. One of the vans suspiciously broke down while we were less than a mile away from the basin and Rosie valiantly stayed behind on the phone with Hertz. She really hates Hertz and Beethoven hold music. One day without Loyc and already our lives are filled with misery and broken vans. 

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