Saturday, November 16, 2013

SVP Report 3: the Page Museum

For the final entry in this year's SVP recap, let's head over to the Page Museum, which showcases specimens collected right outside its front doors in the La Brea tar seeps.

So many specimens have been collected from the tar seeps that the museum has over 400 dire wolf skulls on display - out of more than 1500 in their collections! It makes for an impressive Wall of Stuff. I am envious of their actual non-negligible sample size!

A dire wolf skeleton with a baculum! Now there's something you don't see every day!

I love surprises in museums! I'm used to seeing Panthera atrox, the large cat skeleton in this photo, labeled as the American lion, but here it was called Naegele's giant jaguar! Turns out there's been some back-and-forth about whether or not Panthera atrox is more lion-like or more jaguar-like; recent research seems to put it in the lion lineage. Whether or not the cat is a lion or a jaguar has some interesting biogeographical implications! P. atrox is a relatively rare component of the La Brea deposits compared to dire wolves and sabercats.

Giant not-condor says hi! HI TERATORNIS!

I'm sure I'm not the first to say this, but man, ground sloth feet are weird.

In addition to all of the lovely large skeletal mounts, there's a very nice wall showcasing some of the smaller fossils, and things like taphonomy and pathology. Here's a cool example of rodent gnaw marks on a bone!

And here are the fused foot bones of a Smilodon! Ouch! 

There's a really excellent fishbowl lab - nobody working there when I visited, since it was a Sunday, but it looks like a pretty busy place with lots on the go!

I also liked how they made it so you could see into the collections area!

Finally, I'll end with this adorably retro display on the process of cataloguing and curating fossils (which I am totally happy to see in a museum exhibit)...featuring punch cards.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SVP Report 2: La Brea Tar Pits

Next up in the post-SVP report: the La Brea Tar Pits! This is one of those classic localities that I'm sure is on many a palaeo must-see list. I didn't get a chance to see this on the pre-conference field trip, but a couple of us from the UofA made time to head over before our flights home.

Several of the excavations have viewing stations where you can watch palaeontologists and volunteers hard at work. Pit 91 is the largest of the excavations, but digging is on hiatus while they work on another project.

It is both so similar and so different compared to my experiences digging dinosaurs. The tar pits, or tar seeps as I think they are more accurately called, are kind of a sandy, semi-consolidated sediment with Ice Age vertebrates and asphalt. Excavators lie on the boards across the surface, and work in marked out grid squares.

Here's another shot of the quarry to give a sense of how deep they have gone. Pit 91 has been excavated almost continuously since the 1970s.

Work halted at Pit 91 a few years ago for a new dig, called Project 21. A construction project (for a parking structure, I think) down the road encountered several tar seep deposits with fossils. Instead of holding up construction for years and years, the team at the Page Museum simply scooped up the entire seep deposit and brought it over to the park to work on. The result was 21 large crates which are 'excavated' above ground. Apparently this is much nicer for the diggers since it isn't quite as wet and sticky, as the tar can drain out the bottom of the crates. 

Another, slightly smaller crate waiting to be worked on.

The sediment is saved in large barrels, so that technicians can look for microvertebrates - things like birds, snakes, lizards, small mammals, etc. 

Smilodon wheelbarrow!

Just outside the entrance to the museum is the largest of the pits, the Lake Pit. There wasn't originally a pond here - rainwater has filled in an old pit mined for asphalt. The pit bubbles and gurgles away, which is quite amusing.

Next time: the Page Museum!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SVP Report 1: Natural History Museum of LA County

The Natural History Museum of LA County is excellent! I had a chance to visit it during the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting in Los Angeles the week before last. A great museum with some wonderful dinosaur exhibits. Here's a sampling!

Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops face off in the eternal battle of good vs. evil...

Triceratops puts its best foot forward.

Wall of Stuff! Can you identify all of the bones here?

Fruitadens protests the fact that it stands no taller than the hand of a sauropod. Always nice to see heterodontosaurids on display!

Thescelosaurus looks majestic, for once! (I kid, I kid, I love Thescelosaurus. But this is a particularly nice skeletal mount.)

I thought this was a pretty neat display of tracks and their trackmakers! Here's a hadrosaur foot and a hadrosaur footprint.

The centrepiece of the dinosaur galleries must be the Tyrannosaurus trio - juvenile, subadult, and adult - feeding on a carcass. There's a nice display to the side (but behind this photo) showing the preserved elements used to reconstruct the three skulls.

The dinosaurs are split into two galleries, and each has an upper level, allowing for multiple angles of specimen viewing. In this shot you can see Carnotaurus in the foreground, the three tyrannosaurs in the middle, and towards the back are Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.

Juvenile Edmontosaurus skeleton! So cool!

A display case discussing the origin of birds has this Velociraptor skeletal mount...

And a 3D reconstruction of Archaeopteryx! Stripped of its feathers, it really does show off its dinosaurian features.

And a non-dinosaur to wrap things up: I really enjoyed seeing this life-size reconstruction of the Mesozoic marsupial Didelphodon. It really emphasizes just how big some of the Mesozoic mammals could get - the skull is about the size of a opossum or skunk skull.

Next time: The Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits!