Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Sometimes I Hate Being Right
Soon after my luckless trip to Quarry 4, I was again heading south to the Bluff. Apart from my usual anticipation and excitement driving to the quarry, I also had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that today was not going to be my day. I don’t think there was any particular reason for this feeling but it was there none the less and I hoped it was just me being silly.
I’ve had these feelings before, but they also come with a positive message. It’s like a sixth sense, which I also get when I go fishing - that wonderful, nerve tingling sensation that something exciting is about to happen. Of course, it’s not always right but when it does come off, I find it one of the most satisfying feelings to have.
Arriving at the Bluff I was, as usual, one of the first to arrive. Having signed in, and after exchanging the usual pleasantries, I made my way to the quarry. I wasn’t the first – indeed there were three others already present. One lady, who I knew well from over the years, was engrossed in her searching. Of the other two there, one guy, Mark, I had met last time but the other I didn’t know.
Mark is a preparator at the NHM. I was extremely interested to learn that he was working on the original specimen of Mantell’s Hylaeosaurus armatus, an animal recovered in 1832! He confirmed that BMNH R3375 is still encased in Tilgate sandstone despite continuous preparation over the years and is proving “stubborn” to extract. I’m sure!
He has also invited me for a look behind the scenes which I am very much looking forward to.
I walked along the dinosaur beds looking for a suitable spot to start searching in. Having found what were the obvious remains of a tree, I opted to dig around it, but first I had a quick glance around to see if anything had worked its way to the surface. I looked briefly and then moved on.
I was only about 50 yards away when I looked back to where I had left my gear to see the others gathered around my pitch! I slowly ambled back (as you do) only to find that four pieces of bone were picked up off the surface only a few feet from my gear. I could hardly believe it. I must have simply missed them.
Closer inspection revealed them to be associated pieces of bone, jet black in colour (unusual for this quarry). it was difficult to say with any certainty what animal they belonged to, but one possible rib piece looked distinctly crocodillian.
The discoverer was Chris who had come with Mark and he was, understandably, quite pleased. I, on the other hand, was suitably rattled and this seemed to confirm that my feeling about the day was coming true. I continued my search of the surface and was not surprised at finding nothing.
I returned to my spot, made absolutely certain that there was no more bone in the vicinity, and started to dig into the reptile beds. Mark was doing the same, about five yards to my left but Chris continued his walkabout and headed toward the North West banks.
As the morning wore on, the temperature rose and both Mark and I were working hard for scant reward. Approaching midday we were surprised to see a large group of people standing on the rim of the quarry, all kitted out, looking down at us. They quickly descended and joined us in a long line of excavators – I’ve never worked with so many people in a single bed. Mark and I exchanged glances, slightly bemused by the whole issue.
We were even more surprised when they started conversing in French! We later found that they were a group of visiting French geologists and enthusiasts who had gained admittance to the Bluff for the day. Work continued apace but even with all these extra hands, all that turned up was a single Lepidotid scale.
Eventually news reached us that the North West insect beds were again producing the goods and that a nice vertebra had also been recovered. The French picked up on this and soon migrated en masse to these beds. There were just three of us now, until Chris wandered back with yet more salt to rub into our wounds.
Chris had stated that he was desperate to find an Iguanodon tooth, and whilst walking on the top of the North West section came across a spit tooth just sitting on the surface. Amazing! The tooth, although heavily worn in life, was jet black in colour and had retained its overall shape – a really nice example.
Whilst standing there chatting about the morning’s events, Chris then decided to root around in Mark’s spoil heap and immediately extracted two different species of brachiopod that Mark himself had missed. Ouch!
It was time to move on.
Chris went back to the northwest bank while Mark and I also went on walkabout – we were now desperate for anything no matter how insignificant. But as the afternoon wore on it became apparent that we would continue to struggle. Mark eventually found a fish scale, and even when Chris joined us for the latter part of the afternoon, there was nothing else to be found.
Eventually it was time to leave and again I was empty handed – as many other people were. As we were leaving, however, Mark found another lepidotid scale in the road around the Bluff; a knife was all that was required to secure his prize.
The Bluff can be annoyingly tough at times but generous at others. I’ve always found that the second trip of the year is never as productive as the first. Usually, on the first trip, there will have been at least one good scraping of clay removed by the brick works, as well as an eroding winter of wind, rain and frost.
Only on very rare occasions will there have been another scraping to help with the second trip, and this is mainly the reason for the September trip always being more difficult. I left the Bluff again, down but not out, for I had gained two new fellow fossil hunters to share in trials and tribulations for the future! Roll on next spring when I’m sure that we will all return and try again. Who knows? Maybe that elusive skeleton may put in an appearance.