Digging a Trench

Paeleobiologist Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), set out with Jorge Velez-Juarbe, NMNH Research Student and Ph. D. Candidate at Howard University and Aaron O'Dea from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on an expedition in Panama to excavate a squalodontid, commonly referred to as a shark-toothed dolphin, in June 2011.

The fossil squalodontid skull was located in the middle of the tidal environment in Panama, exposed to the eroding elements of surf, sun, sand and waves. The first thing scientists had to do when they arrived on site was outline the general excavation area and take careful measurements of exposed fossils and record the distances between parts of the exposed skeletons. Next, they applied acrylic glue to the exposed bone to stabilize it. Then a small surface-layer cap of plaster bandages is applied to the skull to protect it from any errant whacks while digging. Finally, the digging begins, and scientists work to make a deep trench around the skull (shown here).  

The scientists successfully removed the fossil remains later that day.  Watch a time-lapse video of the dig, peruse a slideshow, and read Dr. Pyenson's account of the Panama expedition on the Ocean Portal Paleobiology Blog.