Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Nerd Wurld

This is the height of the fossil season. Warm, with enough rain to clean off dusty rocks in quarries. No mosquitoes or black flies.
On Sundays, my hunting partners and I have been playing hide and seek with gravel quarry owners as we try to rescue trilobites from rock crushers. We go very early
with concrete saws, climb over blast piles, find the fossils and cut them out. As theyears have gone by, more and more quarry operators have become fearful of lawsuits and clamped down on collectors. A few others have the good sense to accept a release that absolves them of any risk or they simply turn a blind eye.


The spiny bug above is a Gabriceraurus, a 450-million-year-old, fine-inch water bug that lived here when Ottawa was 150' under sea water, part of the continental shelf of "Laurentia" at about the same latitude as Peru. Back then, we were still, sort of, connected to Europe and North Africa. I say "sort of" because there are chunks of continents that have come and gone.

My friend Marcus Martin in upstate New York, an ex-Marine, is beavering away on sites where trilobites are found preserved with soft body parts:



Soft body part trilobites are very, very rare. Marcus pulled at shale for years until he found a new locality.

Meanwhile, back on this side of the St. Lawrence, the hunt for Paleozoic life continues. Here's a fossil crinoid, a "sea lily", an animal related to starfish and sea urchins. It's from Arkona, between London and Grand Bend:




But not all of us are out in the field. My friend George Kampouris is putting the finishing touch on a giant Devonian fish fossil. He's very carefully chipped, ground and sandblasted a huge nodule holding the front-end of the nastiest fish that ever lived. This guy, a Dunkleosteus, ate sharks. The fossil George is working on is about the size of a stove. It was found embedded in a ravine in Cleveland, Ohio. Here's what it would look like re-assembled:





The beast's skull was on the outside of its head. It had 10" fangs that were used to hack through the flesh and armour of similar Devonian fish. This animal was so tough that even its eyes were armoured. Full-grown, it was 30' long and could have bit through a Volvo.

But a fossil doesn't show you everything. Here's a great YouTube clip of a couple of guys fishing in the Devonian and meeting up with a Dunkleosteus. It is an incredible piece of animation.

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