There is measurable progress beside the creek in the dinosaur trenches near Tumbler Ridge. Overburden has now been removed to expose a 16 square metre working surface, while new trenches are continually being expanded in preparation for next year?s field season.
The surface currently being excavated is about half a metre above the layer known to contain articulated dinosaur bones. Palaeontologists Rich McCrea and Lisa Buckley, who are leading the excavation on behalf of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre and the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, intentionally approach the bone layer with great caution. This is because ?floater bones? are often encountered above the main bone layer, and each and every bone discovered is of great importance.
My family and I choose to continue battling in the trenches, partly for its upper body training value, partly because of a well-founded fear of missing or destroying a critical bone or two at the main work interface, where McCrea, Buckley and Field Assistant Tyler Shaw painstakingly begin picking away at the soft rocks (a welcome contrast to the 2003 excavation, where jackhammers and generators were the order of the day in incredibly hard rock).
At regular intervals in the first two hours welcome cries of ?Here?s a bone? punctuate the riverside air. First it was an impressive-sized tyrannosaur tooth, only the second of its kind in British Columbia (the first was found nearer Tumbler Ridge in 2005). This is especially interesting because the previously discovered bone material at the site has been presumptively identified as being from a hadrosaur, so the presence of this large, shed, theropod tooth is a welcome bonus. Perhaps the tyrannosaur was scavenging, perhaps it was simply washed up there.
Next are two separate ossified tendon discoveries, typical of ornithiscian dinosaurs. And finally, just as we are about to leave, Lisa discovers a sizeable bone that she begins laboriously dissecting free of the surrounding rock. It clearly goes in a long way, and will keep her productively occupied for the next few hours.
These early finds augur well for the success of this important dig in the history of BC. The fact that these bones have been discovered above the main layer, and quite a few metres from the area of known bone concentration, are clearly a positive sign. Bone has been found cropping out over a more than twenty metre length in the bluff, implying a multi-year excavation.
The next few weeks will be important in helping determine the nature and significance of this dinosaur excavation.