Only a few days in, and already we find interesting fossils

smallest prospecting
The team spends a good bit of time on rock outcrops like this one, which they explored on a previous expedition. The idea is to prospect for fossil material that has eroded from the layers of sandstone and siltstone that were deposited by stream systems about 375 million years ago, when this area was near the equator. (Photo by Ted Daeschler)

It’s been a very good couple of days so far in this remarkably remote and rugged terrain. We’ve had exceptionally good weather, in the 40- to-50 degree range, but no rain and no strong wind. And lots of sun. You wake up in the middle of the night, and it’s sunny. At this time of year the sun shines all the time. Maybe it will help me get over the cold I caught before I got here.

Even though it’s only been two days into the trip, I’ve already collected a few very interesting fossils. The plan is to go back to the same site tomorrow or the next day and spend the whole day breaking rock and excavating and seeing what else I might find.

These fossils won’t make front-page news, but they are scientifically very interesting in filling in the story of animals that lived in the Late Devonian Period. That is the window of time we are working with here. Tiktaalik roseae, which I found on an earlier expedition, was one side of that.

We’re not trying to find more Tiktaalik. We’re expanding into the rock formations above and below where Tiktaalik came from and looking for almost anything. But of course the real prize would be something evolutionarily related to Tiktaalik, something showing us another step in that transition of fish to an animal with limbs. But we really can’t come up here expecting to find that.

What I have found so far are some new things, very interesting lobe-finned fish material of the group called osteolepid. I hope to find other interesting materials when I bring these things back to my lab at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and start to identify precisely what I have --  whether these materials are significant or not.

I wonder if I might be the farthest north Phillies fan. I want to know what’s going on with the team! I’m trying to keep up with them through satellite phone calls to my family.

Here’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in all my years, in all the six previous research trips to the Arctic – snowy owls. We never saw snowy owls before. Now there are two nests of snowy owls along the valley that we’re camped in. It’s remarkable. To see these things fly around. It’s very cool and rare to see snowy owl nests.