Monday, July 21, 2014

CRETACEOUS SUMMER 2014: Spending the day in the Two Medicine Formation (blog #6)

DOORWAY TO THE CRETACEOUS. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Hallelujah for firsts! Stepping into that unknown place and walking into a new experience, one that speaks so much of the cycle of life--even if it is 75 million years ago! 
Good-bye to Danielle
That is what I did on Sunday, July 20, 2014, when I climbed out of my tent at Camp Makela. After bidding farewell to some departing volunteers, I headed out into the Two Medicine Formation with my expert ichnologist, Chiboogamooo (aka Tony Martin) and two enthusiastic paleontologists on vacation from L.A., Lee and Ashley, who wanted to learn more about what these Cretaceous trace fossils tell us about animal behavior millions of years ago.

"Get on your 'copro-vision,'" announced my Chiboogamoo as we traipsed across a weathered outcrop in the Two Medicine Formation. We were looking for coprolites - fossilized dinosaur feces - from a species of hadrosaur, Maiasaura, who lived, nested, and yes, pooped at and around this site.
TWO-FOR-ONE TRACE FOSSIL. Observe a fossilized feces, a coprolite, presumably from a Maiasaura dinosaur. Here in this trace fossil, we can observe fossilized wood fiber consumed by the duck-billed dinosaur, as well as insect behavior burrowing into the feces after it was deposited. (photo by Tony Martin)
We were not disappointed since this site has been well studied and the presence of these fossilized feces strewn about the landscape by time are well known. Slowly, we began to adjust our "ichno eyes" to spot rocks black in color because of the carbonization of their ancient organic matter. These dino-trace fossils began to pop out from the other rocks. How rewarding!
HISTORIC MAIASAURA NEST SITE 1979. Celebrating the historic site where Jack Horner and his colleague, Bob Makela, discovered the first dinosaur nests, Lee and Ashley look on as Paleontologist Barbie examines dinosaur egg shell fragments. The commemorative sign is to Tony's right. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Maiasaura, a duck-billed dinosaur, had eaten rotten wood. Pieces of this wood was in her feces, which she had eaten perhaps to regurgitate insect-rich food for her young. Named Maiasaura which, from the Greek, means "good mother lizard," her nests were found in the Two Medicine Formation in 1979, and they were the first dinosaurs nests discovered in North America. This discovery rocked the dinosaur world because it suggested that dinosaurs exhibited social behaviors, staying around their nest sites to protect and nurture their young--hence the heart-warming title of "good mother lizard."  In other words, Maiasaura did not just lay her eggs and then abandon her young. 
Examining Maiasaura's coprolites from the perspective of my ichnologist husband is meaningful in many ways, especially in the way it demonstrates the cycle of life. Maiasaura dwelled in an arid monsoonal environment rich with rotting wood full of nutritious insects and fungi that made use of the decaying conifers. Furthering the usefulness of this decaying wood, paleontologist Karen Chin hypothesized that the "good mother lizard" consumed and regurgitated it for her young, with the undigested remains having been excreted in her feces. The cycle of life continued as burrowing insects dived into the dinosaur dung with relish, leaving their burrow for us to observe 75 million years later. What a lesson in recycling the materials of this precious Earth!

PETE'S PUPA PENINSULA. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
LOOKING UP CLOSE AT FOSSILIZED PUPA. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
"Pete's Pupa Peninsula" is a celebration of birth and rebirth demonstrating another cycle of life! This time we are hallelujahing Cretaceous insects of their life and death as evidenced by the presence of their fossilized burrows and cocoons! Just think of how these animals were living their busy lives beneath the feet of dinosaurs! To learn more about the science of this site, read my Chiboogamoo's blog published this morning on this topic: "Burrowing Wasps and Baby Dinosaurs."

After reveling in the highest concentration of Cretaceous cocoons in the world at "Pete's Pupa Penisula," our crew headed to the Branvold Bone Bed to see what we might find there and along our journey! We were not disappointed. Our companions, Lee and Ashley had such keen "ichno eyes" and bone recognition, that we lingered in the Cretaceous in the presence of their fossil remains. 

Ashley lovingly kept offering fun phrases to express what we were seeing as we stopped at purple dino-bone fragments peering out at us from the brownish grey sand beneath our feet: "explo-o-saurus," "scrap-o-saurus," and "chunk-o-saurus! Thank you Ashley for you fun and abundant imagination!
SCRAP-O-SAURUS! Lee and Ashley taught my Chiboogamoo and me how to spot bones in the fossil record! Thank you! (photo by Hallelujah Truth)

What we learn about the past in the present helps us build our understanding of who we are and what came before us!
WHERE THE HADROSAURS TRAIPSED. MY honey displays what might be a fossilized hadrosaur footprint. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)

LOOKING THROUGH A LENS TO SEE THE CRETACEOUS. My darling is examining a fossilized insect burrow. How awesome that this texture has been preserved for millions of years! Photo by Halleluajah Truth
ATTENDING THE CHURCH OF ICHNOLOGY. Substrate, anatomy, behavior--Amen! Lee and Ashley Hall discussing the Church of Ichnology with my Chiboogamoo. Photo by Hallelujah Truth
That's Coffee with Hallelujah! SOUL BLOG with me! Share with me your sense of the birth and life cycle and how you understand how all of who we are gets recycled. Who will interpret our Earth presence 75 million years from now?

HALLELUJAH TRUTH IN THE CRETACEOUS. After lunch, our crew went east of Camp Makela to prospect for trace fossils. I took a moment to explore on my own. Photo by Tony Martin


  1. Your pictures and words tell such a story Ruth!! Thanks for taking us on this journey with you - I am loving it!!!

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