The Jane Diaries

Dr. Thomas Carr a Tyrannosaurid expert from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin has been working with “Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex specimen from the Hell Creek Formation in south eastern Montana to determine if “Jane” is indeed a juvenile T. rex or if the specimen should be referred to a different species of theropod dinosaur.

"Jane" Burpee Museum's juvnile T. rex

“Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvnile T. rex

Dr. Carr has spent countless hours documenting and studying “Jane’s” fossil components to observe as many details as possible so that the specimen can be placed soundly into a fossil species based on morphological characteristics. If you would like to follow his journey into the details of “Jane’s” skeleton check out his blog Tyrannosauroidea Central or follow him on Twitter at @TyrannosaurCarr. His work with “Jane” will be published as a manuscript once his research is complete – keep an eye on Dr. Carr and Burpee Museum’s social media outlets for updates on the manuscript publication as well!

Chaos to Convention

Burpee Museum has had a whirlwind past three weeks.

In the last three weeks the museum, in conjunction with the museums in the Riverfront Museum Park and other Rockford museums, hosted the Illinois Alliance of Museums conference from October 22-24.

Burpee Museum also hosted a very successful Night Sounds event for families on the evening of October 24, 2014.

Scott Williams, Director of Science & Exhibits, also headed to Kemmerer, Wyoming to pick up
Green River fossil specimens to be prepped for the upcoming Fossil Lake exhibit.

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This, however, was all leading up to #SVP2014 in Berlin, Germany. Four members of the Burpee Staff are attending the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting. The museum is presenting two posters, and several additional presentations are utilizing Burpee specimens as part of their datasets or research questions. It is quite an honor for a museum of Burpee Museum’s size to be so well represented at a professional conference.

If you are interested in following along with hot topics being discussed at the meeting look for #SVP2014 on social media, or follow Brian Switek, author of the National Geographic Phenomenon: Laelops blog or check out Dr. Thomas Holtz’s Twitter feed at @TomHoltzPaleo.

Answers to “Ask a Curator Day” 2014

"Jane" Burpee Museum's juvnile T. rex

“Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvnile T. rex

Great questions from Ask a Curator Day last week! Burpee Collections Staff received a set of questions from Andy Hyunh that will be addressed today. Andy submitted a short bio and these questions to us last week:

From Andy:

Hello! A little bit about myself, I am currently serving in the Army and I plan to study Paleontology and Paleobiology once I am finished with my military career. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to become a Paleontologist.

 My questions are:

 1) How many fossils do you have in your collection?

 2) What is the largest fossil you currently have in your collection?

 3) Once I am done with my service, where can I start to begin a career in the field of Paleontology? I am from California and I tend to visit the Natural History Musuem of Los Angeles as well as the Page Museum/La Brea Tar Pits whenever I come home for leave. I was told that I could start volunteering in the museums? What classes/courses do I need to take? I am highly motivated and extremely excited about all this!

These are great, and very important questions for anyone aspiring to go into the paleontology field! Check out the Collections Staff’s responses below!

1. How many fossils are in the Burpee Museum Collection?

Burpee Museum has over 30,000 fossils in its permanent collection. They range in size from tiny microvertebrate fossils to huge sauropod limb bones, and in age from 455 million year old Ordovician fossils to, relatively, new Ice Age fossils.

2. What is the largest fossil in the Burpee Museum Collection?

“Jane” the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex on display is 21 feet long as a whole specimen. However, as far as individual elements go, we have an Ordovician cephalopod that is nearly 10 feet long.

3. How to begin a career in Paleontology?

Volunteering in museums and at field sites is an excellent way to start. There are many different facets of paleontology – everything from field work, prep work, and scholarly research fall into the field of paleontology. Volunteering can help you narrow down what area interests you the most.

Depending on your area of interest, there are different requirements to get into the field.

Preparators work to clean, restore, and reconstruct fossils in a lab setting. There are conferences like Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium that you can attend to learn techniques and methods for fossil preparations and collections care. Many preparators also work, in some capacity, with collections managers to make sure that specimens are both prepared and stored properly. The last Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium was held in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Scholarly research in the paleo field generally requires at least a Masters degree, if not a Doctorate. Coursework for aspiring paleontologists generally is in Biology or Geology, ideally some of both. Many universities have opportunities for undergraduate research as well as graduate level research. This can be a great way to see if research is something that you enjoy as well as a way to start to build a research resume. Early research projects, or even assisting with projects, will help to introduce you to people in that field who may turn out to be great advisers for future projects.

Field work is generally a component of a career in paleontology, but it is usually not the sole focus. Researchers, preparators, students, and collections staff are usually involved with field work at some point. Very few people end up getting paid to to field work year round. That said, having good field skills is very valuable. Some universities have paleo field schools, where you spend several weeks in the field learning about field techniques. There are also some museums (Burpee Museum included) that have opportunities for people who are not paleontologists to do field work.

We wish you the best Andy, and we hope that if you are ever in Northern Illinois that you’ll stop by and say Hi!

 

Lightening Strikes and Expedition Updates

Steve the Sloth says "Watch for Falling Debris!" Fortunately only the chimney was damaged, and things are now back up and running!

Steve the Sloth says “Watch for Falling Debris!” Fortunately only the chimney was damaged, and things are now back up and running!

Things have been busy in the field at at the museum! A chimney on museum’s administrative building, the Barnes Mansion, was struck by lightening. The chimney was damaged and the email server was fried. So, if you’ve tried to email anyone at the museum in the past few days and your email bounced back, please try again!

The Week 1 Field Crew, thanks for all your hard work!

The Week 1 Field Crew, thanks for all your hard work!

The news from the field is much more fun, the field crews have made some exciting finds at both new and old sites! The braincase and a pterygoid were found at the “Garny” Triceratops site by Steve Simpson and the Highland Community College crew.

Another Baenid Turtle found at the Ninja Turtle site!

Another Baenid Turtle found at the Ninja Turtle site!

Another Baenid Turtle was found at the Ninja Turtle site.

Possibly a new juvenile T. rex site!

Possibly a new juvenile T. rex site!

A juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex femur was found while prospecting – crews are going back this week to investigate and see if there is more there!

Highway to Hell Creek 2014 is underway!

Burpee Museum Field Crews have been working near Ekalaka, Montana preparing for the 2014 Highway to Hell Creek field season for the past two weeks. Already they have opened the “Pearl” site and have unearthed more of the rare Oviraptor, as well as opened the Double L Triceratops site and the Ninja Turtle site. Hopes are high for lots of great finds this field season!

L to R: Simon Masters, Gene Sullivan, Steve Landi, Hillary Parks, and Maureen Mall pose after finishing opening the Double L Triceratops site.

L to R: Simon Masters, Gene Sullivan, Steve Landi, Hillary Parks, and Maureen Mall pose after finishing opening the Double L Triceratops site.

They have also attended and presented at the second annual Dino Shindig at the Carter County Museum among many other very notable paleontologists. The first round of expedition participants arrived at Camp Needmore on Sunday and will be digging with the Burpee Crew all week.

Camp Needmore, the field crew's home for the next few weeks.

Camp Needmore, the field crew’s home for the next few weeks.

Stay tuned to the Burpee Facebook Page for updates about our finds from the field!

Just What the Doctor Ordered: Two Medicine delivers high biodiversity in a low profile region

Brad Brown began working at the Burpee Museum shortly after graduating from Northern Illinois University in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Geology. He has assisted with multiple Burpee field seasons in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana including the excavation of Homer, Burpee’s “teenaged” Triceratops.

In Montana’s eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains stand ancient weathered hills above gently rolling plains. Within these hills numerous fossils await their discovery by some intrepid, wide-brim hat wearing paleontologist. Animals preserved in the mud that entombed them around 75 million years ago had no way of knowing the significance a band of bipedal, relatively hairless mammals would find in them. This location, a section of the Two Medicine Formation, has been a hotspot of diverse fossil discoveries for over 30 years despite its sleepy surroundings.

Morning view from my tent. The teepee was used by friends passing through for a night or anyone whose tent was damaged by the occasionally raucous wind.

Morning view from my tent. The teepee was used by friends passing through for a night or anyone whose tent was damaged by the occasionally raucous wind.

The Two Medicine Formation became a consistent site of paleontological study beginning in the late 1970s when the first known North American dinosaur egg fossils were reported. Montana paleontologist, Jack Horner, with collaborator, Bob Makela, and a group of Princeton students prospected the Two Medicine, and their years of work identified more than mere egg fragments. They found numerous egg nests, some containing embryos. Laid by the hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur) Maiasaura, the Montana nesting sites have provided much insight into dinosaur anatomy, ontogeny (changes through maturation), and parenting behavior. The Maiasaura bone bed can be traced across numerous hill exposures including Camp Makela where the crew spends their evenings dining and refining their research. Horner and his students have estimated that over 10,000 Maiasaura skeletons were deposited at the location (though many have long eroded away) leading them to believe that the animals died during a catastrophic flooding event.

Another Two Medicine fossil site of interest, dubbed Egg Mountain, has provided a unique window into the deep past. Named for the original attractant to the site, Egg Mountain has produced many fossils of eggshell from dinosaurs, birds, and crocodiles. Dr. David Varricchio of Montana State University has been working at Egg Mountain for the past five summers and has unearthed an assortment of small Late Cretaceous creatures, some of which are thought to correlate with the site’s eggshell. Dinosaurs present at the site include a possible burrowing animal called Orodromeus, as well as the bird-like theropod, Troodon. Teeth of hadrosaurs and the theropods Saurornitholestes and Daspletosaurus have also been found. Non dinosaurians from lizards to mammals, both placental (such as rabbits, mice, etc) and non-placental (marsupials, monotremes, and an extinct group, multituberculates) have been some of the most complete specimens from the site. Trace fossils are also prevalent at Egg Mountain. Backfilled insect burrows and pupa chambers as well as pupa cases still showing silk weave patterns are among the most abundant signs of prehistoric life, representing numerous beetle and wasp species. Such fossils provide important details about the paleoenvironment and are an interesting topic of research for ichnologist and author, Dr. Tony Martin, of Emory University.

Egg Mountain is a somewhat atypical fossil locale because it represents a terrestrial setting as opposed to the more watery fluvial and lacustrine settings which tend to provide reliable opportunities for sediment accumulation, therefore, fossilization. The site is currently believed to preserve a natural levee along the bank of an ancient river. The prevailing sediment would have been mud and soil which, over great swaths of time, hardened into a gray mudstone with blocky carbonate nodules. Carbonate rock can indicate to a geologist that the area was perhaps a shallow marine environment, but this is no marine limestone. The micrite found at Egg Mountain is derived from carbonate rock which eroded from a marine Paleozoic deposit to the west that was uplifted during the early rise of the Rocky Mountains. Rivers carried the carbonate in solution, flooded periodically, and the carbonate material percolated into the Cretaceous soil. During dry seasons, water in the soil evaporated leaving behind nodules of solid carbonate.

Originally so many bones of Orodromeus juveniles and adults were found at the site that it was thought to be an Orodromeus nesting site. The identification of embryos as Orodromeus seemed to confirm that, however, after more Troodon specimens were found and studied Dr. Varricchio realized that the embryos were originally misidentified and are actually Troodon. It is believed that Orodromeus remains may represent prey items of brooding Troodon parents. Dr. Varricchio’s team has uncovered a significant clutch of two dozen elongate ovoid eggs within a bowl shaped trace of a nest constructed by and fitting the body size of Troodon which is on display at Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT. The eggshell of Troodon is very smooth and closely resembles the texture of bird eggs. A bumpier type of dinosaur eggshell is thought to represent a dromaeosaur (the group including Velociraptor), though no skeletal material associated with a clutch of bumpy eggs has yet been found. Pieces of crocodile teeth and egg shell are found at the site, but again, no associated skeletons or nests have surfaced. A handful of very complete mammal and lizard specimens have been collected from Egg Mountain and continue to draw interest from experts and collaborators such as Dr. Gregory Wilson of the University of Washington. The Two Medicine Formation is possibly the host locale of the best preserved Late Cretaceous mammals in North America.

As a prospective graduate student hoping to study paleontology, I contacted Dr. Varricchio about his research at Montana State University. After keeping in touch over the winter months we met in person this past March at Burpee Museum’s annual PaleoFest event. We talked about field work, as many paleo folk start getting antsy in spring, and Dave invited me to volunteer with his crew. I was only able to stay for one week, but that was enough to get an idea of how the site operates and what should be expected of it.

Orodromeus femur in micrite. Working the micrite requires breaking large rocks into small rocks, so bones are often split among a slab and counter slab.

Orodromeus femur in micrite. Working the micrite requires breaking large rocks into small rocks, so bones are often split among a slab and counter slab.

Egg Mountain is a rather flat rectangular site atop a hill, setup in such a way to simplify mapping. The crew is spread across a grid and works their section down from the surface until they reach an established lower horizon. The mudstone requires occasional jack hammering so that the crew can work through the rubble with brushes and awls keeping their eyes sharply tuned to spot very small bone and egg fragments. In the afternoon of my first day at Egg Mountain I ‘worked the line’ until I found something that did not look quite like mudstone. Being new to the operation, I asked, “Dave, do my eyes deceive me? Is this bone?” Indeed, it was part of a tibia to an Orodromeus. Further excavation uncovered a femur, a vertebra, a possible fibula. Then, in carbonate micrite, there was another femur, more vertebrae, and a few toe bones. On my last day I circled around to the original material found in mudstone and ran into yet another femur along with a radius and an ulna. Three total femora were present indicating that there were two animals! Normally, the site’s student and volunteer workers hunch over scads of crumbly mudstone for 3-5 weeks finding mostly trace fossils, isolated bones, and eggshell fragments barely visible to the naked eye, mere stains on the rock compared with the large Maiasaura bones that lay just a mile away. Over the course of the week I realized that I was not having the typical Egg Mountain experience. To find multiple dinosaur bones every day for a week was a rare treat that I will not soon forget!

Dave maps the orientation of Orodromeus bones. The bucket in front of him contains the day’s finds wrapped in paper towel and aluminum foil. In the foreground volunteer, Ulf Schyldt, of Stockholm, Sweden sweeps his section clean of rubble while seeking tiny ancient treasures.

Dave maps the orientation of Orodromeus bones. The bucket in front of him contains the day’s finds wrapped in paper towel and aluminum foil. In the foreground volunteer, Ulf Schyldt, of Stockholm, Sweden sweeps his section clean of rubble while seeking tiny ancient treasures.

Science is a beautiful and humbling cohesion of the observations, experiences, and testable ideas that humanity has encountered and manipulated over many centuries. I owe much of my experience in the scientific world to Burpee Museum’s long running expedition program. I had never found a dinosaur bone until I went to Montana with a class run by Highland Community College professor, Steve Simpson, in collaboration with Burpee. I found myself returning to spend as many summer breaks as I could in the Hell Creek Formation of the eastern Montana badlands. I was privileged to find myself in Montana the summer that Homer was discovered. The following year I was one of many intrigued individuals who helped uncover the expansive juvenile Triceratops bone bed where Homer and two of his compatriots were laid down. After years of guided experience with Scott Williams and Burpee staff, I am glad to have taken my lessons learned and applied them to a new dig site. Working with diverse groups of people and seeing fossils unseen for ages provides new perspectives and has helped me continue to build upon each experience, finding that science is not just a subject of study or an accumulation of facts and numbers, but a way of life that is shared worldwide.

Stay tuned to No Stone Unturned for more news and stories inspired by the Burpee Museum of Natural History.

For more information about Tony Martin’s research and why insect fossils provide a better understanding of dinosaurs, follow his blog Life Traces of the Georgia Coast and pick up his book Dinosaurs Without Bones, in stores now!

2014 Dino Shindig!

2014 Shindig

The second annual Dino Shindig is fast approaching! The Dino Shindig is hosted by the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana midway through the paleontological field season. Burpee Museum was proud to be a part of the inaugural Shindig weekend and is honored to be part of it once again this year! Last year’s Shindig hosted Dr. Jack Horner (Museum of the Rockies), Dr. Thomas Carr (Carthage College), Dr. Mark Goodwin (University of California-Berkeley Museum of Paleontology), Dr. Tyler Lyson (Smithsonian Museum of Natural Hstory), Dr. Joseph Peterson (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), Dr. Thomas Holtz (University of Maryland) and Burpee Museum’s very own Scott Williams.

2013 Dino Shindig Speakers with host, Nathan Carroll, Carter County Museum Curator

2013 Dino Shindig Speakers with host, Nathan Carroll, Carter County Museum Curator

This year’s Dino Shindig will take place over the weekend of July 26 & 27, 2014. If you happen to be in Southeast Montana (or are planning to travel to that area) the Shindig is a wonderful, family friendly event that draws world-class speakers to the museum (see below for a list of speakers) to educate the public about the amazing paleontological resources and discoveries in the area.  Talks will be on Saturday July 26, and a dinosaur expedition (limited spaces available) will take place on Sunday July 27. The Shindig webpage has additional information about pricing and registration, and you can stay up to date about the Shindig on Carter County Museum’s Facebook page. If you’re able, we hope you’ll head to the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka to check out the Dino Shinding, its bound to be a great time!

2014 Speakers