Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tap Talk Tuesday with Lee Hall!

I am currently a paleontological consultant working out of the Los Angeles area. In 2011 I graduated from Montana State University with my B. Sc. in Paleontology. My job involves a combination of research, writing and field monitoring throughout southern California's deserts and other fossil-laden places. Consulting is a different world than academic paleontology, but it is an interesting and enriching experience. I also maintain some personal research projects on my own time, and I am happy to continue to contribute to the scientific literature. I think 5-year-old Lee would be happy to know I've made it this far.

Striking a pose with a cast of "Stan" at the Discovery Science Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo provided by Lee Hall.)

Question 1: You are currently involved in the field of paleontology. Who did you admire growing up in regards to this fascinating field?

It's kind of weird, but I didn't really have an idol as a kid. In a way, I admired books. Until I started working with museums, everything I knew about science was derived from reading. One of my favorite books was "Hunting Dinosaurs" by Louie Psihoyos. It was (and still is) a great look at the diverse research topics in dinosaur paleontology. That book introduced me to a lot of the scientists who were answering cool questions about dinosaurs. At that point I went from just wanting to find fossils to wanting to be like the people in that book.

Question 2: At what age did you get inspired to pursue a career in paleontology?

I got serious about it in high school, and luck played a decent part. I was always the nerdy kid who knew about dinosaurs growing up. I thought I'd just "be a paleontologist" when I grew up. In a small Great Plains farm town. We had one museum with fossils: the W. H. Over museum. I think there was a cast of Archelon on display and maybe an ammonite or two- not much. My hometown did have a small college and there were a couple of paleontologists there: Dr. Gary Johnson, who studied Permian sharks, and Dr. Tim Heaton, who worked on sea cave faunas in southeast Alaska. When I was a freshman, I interviewed them for a big research project for my English class. Later that year there was a visiting speaker for Earth Science Week- Dr. Jack Horner from the Museum of the Rockies. He was kind enough to invite me to work on his field crews in Montana for the next summer. At that point, I got pretty serious about it.

Question 3: What was your favorite dinosaur growing up? What dinosaur is your favorite now?

Growing up? Probably T. rex, but my favorite dinosaur toy was a crappy Styracosaurus- one with sharp teeth and practically no frill. I think it was orange. Now I would have to say that Styracosaurus is my favorite dinosaur. That head is crazy!

Excavating "T-tops" the Triceratops in 2011 from the Hell Creek. We first found the squamosal bone, the large blade-like lateral bone of the frill. While excavating around it, the syncervical (the fused first vertebrae of the neck) was discovered. This site was notorious for the long hike it took to get there. Another Triceratops site found later that summer was nicknamed the "Not 2 mile Trike" site. (Photo provided by Lee Hall.)

Question 4: Paleontology is such a diverse field these days involving many disciplines. What advice would you give to an aspiring paleontologist today?

Paleontology is a serious scientific discipline. You will have to take a lot of technical geology and biology courses. It isn't just about finding dinosaur bones. Should you choose to pursue paleontology as a career, be prepared to work very hard and make a lot of sacrifices. Be an opportunist and jump at any chance you can get to learn or try something new. Those skills will make you or break you in the long run. Above all else, work as hard as you can.

Question 5: Were there any subjects in college you dreaded?

Calculus. I was a terrible math student. I had to take it 5 times at two different schools before I passed it. Looking back, I'll say this about calculus: the 'calculus' stuff isnt' the hard part. It's the algebra. It's always the algebra. Once my algebra got better, calculus was no problem. Algebra is to calculus as instructions are to LEGO sets. You're going to have a hard time without knowing how the guts work.

Question 6: What was or is your favorite research project? What are some of your current projects?

I've really enjoyed working on a two-parter project with my friend Denver Fowler (who is currently pursuing a PhD at Montana State) and my fiancee Ashley Fragomeni (an assistant curator at the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, CA. Oh, and she's an educator at the LA Museum of Natural History. And the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. She does a lot.) A couple of years ago, Denver and I published a paper about sauropod hindclaws. We were assessing the validity of something called the substrate grip hypothesis, which suggested that the unique form of sauropod hind claws lended them to acting sort of like cleats in mud. We compared this to the scratch-digging hypothesis, which suggested that the morphology of hindfoot claws in sauropods was more useful for digging, and perhaps for excavating nests. Fast forward to this past year, myself Ashley and Denver have been working on part 2 of that study, which is essentially a follow up looking through the fossil trackway record for evidence of these behaviors. It's really very interesting! I've also been working with John and Kari Scannella (of Montana State) on a project involving horned dinosaurs, and it has allowed me to do some research into pathologies. Really gross, and really fascinating.

Question 7: Jurassic Park was the movie I remember as a kid that fueled my passion for dinosaurs. What was your most memorable movie?

Well I'm a huge fan of Star Trek, and one of the few movies I got to see in theaters as a kid was the last of the original crew's films (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country). But I think Jurassic Park was one of the most fun movie experiences of my childhood. It certainly didn't hurt my enthusiasm for fossils and natural history, and I benefited from the flood of paleontology books and media that inundated television, magazines and book stores for years afterwards. I must have seen it half a dozen times. I'd scrape together pennies and nickels to buy a ticket, and the college kid at the ticket kiosk would take a look at the pile of change and just wave me in. Then I'd use the change to buy popcorn and candy.

The freshly jacketed syncervicals of a Triceratops, excavated from Montana's Hell Creek formation. (Photo provided by Lee Hall.)

Question 8: I remember meeting my first professional paleontologist. Do you remember the first paleontologist you ever met? Were you a nervous wreck?

I was a little nervous. My earliest recollection was with Dr. Gary Johnson at the University of South Dakota. I was amazed by his collection of shark spines, teeth and bones and his office smelled richly of pipe tobacco. He was very nice to me, and very patient with my questions. I remember he had framed fantasy art hanging at the top of his walls sort of ringing the room. They were vivid, stylized depictions of pterosaurs and saber toothed cats, and *ahem* huntresses. My first impression with a paleontologist was pretty unforgettable.

Question 9: Dinosaurs and the animals that lived at the same time as them were amazing creatures. Why do you feel dinosaurs continue to fascinate us?

I don't want to over analyze this question, so the meat of it is this. Our brains love to categorize organisms: food, venomous, predator, fast/slow, bitey, etc. We also recognize that skeletons are direct evidence of an animal having been very much alive at one point, so we can look at a dinosaur and our brains try to fit it into these categories. But we are left to our imaginations to fill in the gaps. It's a very strange place for your brain to be caught- sort of back in time but in the present, imagining behaviors and noises and colors all at once. You ultimately feel that they would surely have eaten you or stomped you or impaled you in life, but those fears are rendered inert by the fact that they're extinct. And that's fascinating to us hominids.

Question 10: What is your favorite time period?

I love the cretaceous. No contest. It's where I've spent most of my time in the field. There's no place like home. On the opposite end of that spectrum is quaternary alluvium. For a dinosaur paleontologist, it's like being forced to visit your grandma's weird friend's house. Everything is different. And it smells funny.

Question 11: Coelophysis is my favorite dinosaur from the sites I work in ! What is your favorite dinosaur from your fieldwork sites?

I've spent a lot of time in the Hell Creek formation, and I really love finding Triceratops bones. They're just cool. Frills, horns, and beaks- I remember one day I was prospecting and walked up on a small mudstone knob. I froze in place because a Triceratops skull was laying on its side right in front of me. Just like that. I could see all the bones: nasal horn, postorbital horns, orbit, jugal. Nothing beats an experience like that.

Question 12: Geology, among many disciplines of study, is such a vital subject when studying the past. Why do you feel this background is important to know when hunting dinosaurs?

Understanding geology allows you to give fossils a time and a place to exist. Rocks give you environments. They give you events. They give you time. Once you realize that you can build a much more complete image of our past Earth. Fossils can be a very powerful tool for understanding how evolution works and for examining its processes and directions. Or they can sit in a foyer. Point being, to get the fully rounded picture you need to look at the rocks. Being a paleontologist is like trying to put together a book whose pages have been dropped from a plane and scattered across the desert for years, bleaching, fading and tearing. You'll never get all those pages back, but if you're going to call yourself a paleontologist and a scientist you'd better never stop trying to find them.

John Scannella (in black) and I assess the logistics of flipping a large jacket at the "Ducky Tail" site. This specimen consisted of most of the legs and tail of an Edmontosaurus from the Hell Creek. It was very cool because the neural spines of the caudal vertebrae preserved a string of pathologies that extended over quite a few of the bones. We ended up flipping the jacket with human power and flew it out with a Huey helicopter. (Photo provided by Lee Hall.)

Question 13: Where can our audience go to learn more about your work and support what you do?

If people want to read some stuff about me they can check out my (unprofessionally maintained) website at: http://sites.google.com/site/leehallpaleo
I spent quite a few years working at the Museum of the Rockies and Montana State University (Shout out to Drs. David Varricchio, Frankie Jackson and Jim Schmitt!) and I detail some of that work on my website.

I have a twitter account (doesn't everyone now?) @paleeoguy

I'll also be gladly accepting offers for fully funded graduate program opportunities if anyone is interested in a self-motivated guy with a BSc in paleontology, 10+ years of field experience and a small (but independently growing!) list of publications (See you at SVP).

Question 14: What else do you enjoy? What other interesting hobbies do you have?

I love making prop replicas. I made a pretty cool Ghostbusters outfit back in college. I had the whole thing, the pack, the suit, blinking lights. It was legit. If I had a garage I'd probably always be in there trying to put something together. As it stands, I'm currently in a 1 bedroom apartment in Los Angeles and spend a lot of time out in the desert. No room, no time. Someday I'd like to really get back into it. Have I said that I like Star Trek? I've never been to a convention, but I have seen a few actors around LA who played roles in the various TV shows. I have a cat.

We used helicopters to remove large fossil jackets from the field. Jackets would be lifted, rolled or wiggled into a cargo net and a chopper would fly in and drop a cable to pick up the goods. One of us would clamp the net cable to the chopper cable, give the pilot a thumbs up, and get out of the way! (Photo provided by Lee Hall.)

Question 15: Have you ever been to New Jersey?

No! I was actually born in Maryland and lived on the east coast until I was 5 or 6, then the family moved to South Dakota. Is the Haddonfield marl pit gone? I've always thought it would be cool to see the approximate area where Cope and Marsh last parted on amiable terms. Come to think of it, my college roommate was from Piscataway and his mom would send us cheesecake from a local bakery. That's the closest I've come!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Help Us Fund Summer Dinosaur Track Research!

Hello Dear Readers!

Regardless of the snow that is on the ground up here in northeast British Columbia as I type, this is the time of year our planning kicks into high gear for this summer's field season. We have an exciting new dinosaur ichnology project (for new readers, ichnology is tracks, traces, and other "signs" left by dinosaurs other than their body parts), thanks to the sharp-eyed residents of the Peace Region who reported the site to us, and the guarantee that we can operate this year.

Even though I'm office-bound this summer (thesis chapter writing), I'm still hard at work ensuring that the field season can happen for my Research Team. As a Museum Of Unusual Size (MOUS), we struggle every year to not only convince the Powers That Be that our institution (the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre) is a worthy project for conserving, archiving, researching, and interpreting British Columbia's fossil heritage, we have to justify WHY research should be funded. We have no access to research funding through provincial or federal means. We always approach the natural resource companies operating in the region for potential partnerships, and are usually given the same rebuff: "Our head office decides funding levels based on population size. You live in a small population center. You will get a small amount." Trying to convince them that this project is regional and provincial in scale does not make an impression.
This year we're trying something different. Two days ago I launched an Indiegogo campaign to crowd fund the research for our Williston Lake Tracksite (link to the "Research Dinosaur Tracks in Northeast BC, Canada!" campaign site here.)

There's good background information on the campaign page, but I'll also provide a summary here.

The new Williston Lake Tracksite is a large, flat exposure of the Gething Formation (Early Cretaceous, approximately 115 million years old). Dinosaurs in BC - and specifically dinosaur footprints - have a long, but little known history in the province. Tthe cultural history of many British Columbia residents of European descent (there may be First Nations historical recognition for the tracks - still hunting out info) has long assumed that "there are no dinosaurs in BC, they're found in Alberta" - I heard this so often growing up in BC that I wanted to scream. However, dinosaur prints were first found in northeast BC by geologist F. H. McLearn in 1922-23. Paleontologist Charles M. Sternberg led the first paleontology expedition to the Peace Region in 1930.

C. M. Sternberg named many new ichnotaxa (footprint types) from the Peace River Canyon Gething Formation sites in 1932 and on. This was the first extensively published description of Cretaceous tracks as a footprint community (ichnofauna). Several ichnotaxa were named:

Amblydactylus gethingi - here's a footprint and handprint pair from a different tracksite, not the original Sternberg locality.  Amblydactylus is thought to be made by a dinosaur related to Iguanodon.

Medium-sized herbivorous dinosaur print Gypsichnites pacensis (image not Sternberg's original site):

The small theropod footprint Irenichnites gracilis. This specimen is not from the original Sternberg localities:

Medium-sized theropod footprint Columbosauripus ungulatus (image not from Sternberg's sites):

Large-sized (and likely allosaurid) theropod prints Irenesauripus (from Sternberg 1932):

Last, but certainly not least, the ankylosaur footprints of Tetrapodosaurus borealis (image not from the Sternberg localities, but from our Flatbed Creek Trackway Tour site):

Later, Currie (1981) named what was, at the time, the oldest bird footprints known, and the second
bird footprints named from North America: Aquatilavipes swiboldae.
From Currie (1981).

There are two things I'm sure you have noticed by now:
1. The Peace River Canyon tracksites are important. Several type specimens come from there, and they are an important part of not only British Columbia's history, but the history of paleontology. The Province of British Columbia agreed, and in 1930 the Peace River Canyon site was designated as a Provincial Heritage Resource. Cool, right?
2. Most of the images are not from the original Peace River Canyon localities. Why? The Peace River Canyon localities, a Provincial Heritage Resource, are now flooded under the "Dinosaur Lake" reservoir of the Peace Canyon Dam. Despite a huge salvage effort by the Provincial Museum of Alberta (now the Royal Alberta Museum), led by paleontologist Dr. Philip Currie between 1976-1979 that recovered over 90 footprints, mapped 1000 prints, and in total documented 1700 prints, the sites and the in-place tracks were lost to future science, science outreach, and tourism opportunities.

This new site, the Williston Lake Tracksite, is the first large-scale track-bearing surface from the Gething Formation that has been seen since the flooding of the Peace River Canyon. We have this fantastic opportunity to continue Sternberg's and Currie's work.

First, we simply need to documenting the site. It won't really be simple: there's A LOT of site to be cleared (in yellow):

We need to map all of the footprints in place as they appear on the surface. We need to take latex and silicone molds of significant footprints and trackways. We also need to 3D-digitize the ENTIRE site.
We can take an entire tracksite back to the lab with us in 3D-digital replica format. Image from McCrea et al. (2014b).

Why do we need to do this?

We need to know a) what track types are there, b) what proportion each track type is in this slice of the paleo-ecosystem, and c) update or revise Sternberg's footprint identifications (as needed) with our advanced understanding of how footprints work - Sternberg did a great job in 1932, but our understanding of footprints has increased and changed a lot since then, and since the original Sternberg sites are inaccessible, we have this golden opportunity to research a site that is as close to what Sternberg saw as possible.

We can't miss this scientific opportunity. This is why we need your help. Some of the tracks are exposed, and we know from experience that the longer tracks are exposed, the more likely they are to be damaged by weathering (slow) and human selfishness (fast). We need to get in, uncover, document, and securely cover the site this summer. To do this safely and efficiently we need to replace our old equipment (truck, all-terrain vehicle) and pick up a new item: a secure cargo trailer in which we can store gear (we've had all of our sites robbed) and store specimens. We also need to feed our crew of staff and volunteers.

Once this site is documented, we hope that it can one day be used as a science-based tourism initiative. Our research this summer will be the basis for all of the exciting stories we'll discover about Early Cretaceous dinosaurs. We want to bring the Peace River Canyon tracks from their watery obscurity, if only by proxy, and tell their story to the world.

You can help us tell that story. The most important way you can help is to share the "Research Dinosaur Tracks in Northeast BC, Canada!" site with anyone interested in history, heritage, dinosaurs, and science education. If you have the means, we would greatly appreciate any contributions.

I know we can do this.


Currie PJ. 1981. Bird footprints from the Gething Formation (Aptian, Lower Cretaceous) of northeastern British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 1(3-4):257-264.

McCrea RT, Buckley LG, Plint AG, Currie PJ, Haggart JW, Helm CW, Pemberton SG. 2014a. A review of vertebrate track-bearing formations from the Mesozoic and earliest Cenozoic of western Canada, with a description of a new theropod ichnospecies and reassignment of an avian ichnospecies. New Mexico Museum of Natural History Bulletin 62: 5-94.

McCrea RT, Buckley LG, Farlow JO, Lockley MG, Currie PJ, et al. 2014b. A ‘Terror of Tyrannosaurs’: The First Trackways of Tyrannosaurids and Evidence of Gregariousness and Pathology in Tyrannosauridae. PLoS ONE 9(7): e103613. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103613

Sternberg CM. 1932. Dinosaur tracks from Peace River, British Columbia. National Museum of Canada Bulletin 68:59-85

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Geology Go Go Bar!

Please welcome the mineral Galena to the stage.

I'm sure I'll catch a lot of flak for this post, but oh well.  Besides, It's all in good fun.  My background is in geology.  I love paleontology, but in order to do the fun stuff, you need to know the hard stuff also.  University studies can sometimes be tedious.  Everyone has their own unique way of remembering and understanding things.  To give you an insight into where I'm going with this, note the below snapshot from my personal Facebook page.  I've of course omitted the numerous comments and "Likes" in order to respect the privacy of my friends.

Yup, you saw right.  I learned my mineral studies by associating them with dancers.  If it works right?  Well, for me it does.  Anyway, studying can be punishing.  Find what works for you and go for it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tap Talk Tuesday with paleontologist Jeff Martz!

During the summer of 2006, I was privileged to have had an amazing professor by the name of Jeffrey Martz via my college in New Mexico. At the time, Jeffrey Martz was a PhD student at Texas Tech University.  Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Dr. Martz and asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview.  He graciously said yes and I was so excited!  I have to say, it is a very surreal feeling to have been taught a geology class on dinosaurs by one of my favorite paleontologists.  Thank you Dr. Martz.  You are an inspiration and a brilliant man.

Photo provided by Jeffrey Martz

Gary: What is a paleontologist and what do they do?

Dr. Jeffrey Martz: A paleontologist is a kind of scientist, and being a scientist is not simply about acquiring knowledge, but about contributing new knowledge by learning things that no one else has learned before.  This is a lot more time-consuming than just reading about someone else’s work, so just knowing a lot about dinosaurs does not make someone a paleontologist.  A paleontologist is also not the same thing as a preparator, which is someone that removes fossils from rock (and a lot of other tasks related to the upkeep of fossils), although one can be both a paleontologist and a preparator.

Paleontologists tend to specialize on a few particular subjects in their research, because research is a very time-consuming process.  When pursuing a research question such as “how did this group of animals evolve,” or “what ancient environments did these animal live in”, you have to collect a lot of information before those questions can be answered.  It takes a lot longer to acquire first-hand knowledge on a subject and write a scientific paper than it does to read one.  As a result, most paleontologists select a few subjects on which they can become experts with more first-hand knowledge than almost anyone.

My own work focuses on the Late Triassic, which lasted from about 235-201 million years ago.  The Triassic Period followed the Permian mass extinction, the largest in the history of life.  As with other periods following mass extinctions, the Triassic was a time of evolutionary radiation, and a lot of strange new groups of animals appeared, including the first dinosaurs, lizards, sphenodontians, frogs, turtles, mammals, and relatives of crocodylians, as well as survivors of the Permian extinction.  Overall, the Triassic fauna was a strange menagerie of old and new groups of animals, most of which would not survive past the end of the period.  Moreover, the ecological changes that occurred during the period had critical consequences for the rest of the Phanerozoic, eliminating some groups of animals and establishing others (including the dinosaurs) who would thrive for the rest of the Mesozoic Era.  Climate change, massive volcanic activity in eastern North America, and at least one major asteroid or comet impact all probably played a part in these ecological changes.

Most of my research focuses on Triassic rocks and fossils in western North America.  One major project is to more closely examine the Chinle Formation and Dockum group, the sedimentary rocks of Late Triassic age that occur throughout Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  After leaving Texas Tech, I spent three years working at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, collaborating with my friend and colleague Bill Parker on revising the stratigraphy and vertebrate fauna of the Chinle Formation within the park and elsewhere in Arizona.  I have also been working with researchers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Dinosaur Discovery Center in St. George (Utah), and Utah Museum of Natural History to understand how these rocks vary across the region, and what this tells us about changing environments and faunas throughout the Triassic Period.  Additionally, I am also studying the fossils of the Chinle Formation, especially pseudosuchian archosaurs (relatives of crocodylians) and dinosauromorphs (dinosaurs and their close relatives) to understand their evolution throughout the Triassic.

Photo provided by Jeffrey Martz

Gary: What was it like growing up as you put it, a "dinosaur geek"?

Dr. Jeffrey Martz: Like probably the majority of people in this field, I was interested in dinosaurs from an early age.  When I was really little, I went through a phase of drawing cows and horses for a while, and then graduated to dinosaurs and dragons.  Tyrannosaurus rex was always my favorite dinosaur by far, and has never been eclipsed (even though I now have a deeper affection for crocodylian-line archosaurs, since they are what I actually study).

Old stop-motion movies (especially Ray Harryhausen’s) were a major source of inspiration; One Million Years B.C., Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and Valley of Gwangi are the three I probably remember best.  Gwangi was a particularly convincing creation, and got an amazing amount of screen time for a stop-motion effect. When you know how difficult and time-consuming stop-motion and old school (pre-computer) optical compositing is done, it makes Harryhausen’s work even more incredible.  The brain damage was probably irreparable by the time I was 6 or 7.  I suspect that a lot of vertebrate paleontologists had similar childhoods to people who went into the special effects industry.

Naturally, I read a lot of dinosaur books when I was little as well. Being visually oriented and artistically inclined, I cared more about looking at the pictures than what I learned reading them.  Probably the most important book for encouraging me to retain an interest in paleontology into my adult life was The Dinosaurs, a magnificent book illustrated by William Stout and written by William Service.  I collect copies of the original volume whenever I encounter them, and get Stout to sign them for me whenever I meet him.  I also remember Donald Glut’s Dinosaur Scrapbook fondly, which tied in nicely with my love of both dinosaur movies and dinosaur art.  I hope Glut eventually does a sequel covering the dinosaur pop culture of the past 30 years, or better yet, a humungous two-volume in full color covering everything.

When I was a bit older, I saw Phil Tippet’s work for a television program called Dinosaur that was hosted by Christopher Reeve; it included his amazing short film Prehistoric Beast and a lot of additional stuff he did with other Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs for the program.  His animation has a degree of scientific accuracy, realism, and atmosphere that was unparalleled at the time, and hasn’t really been equaled since; I think there is more drama, tension, realism and beauty in Prehistoric Beast than in all the subsequent BBC and Discovery Channel programs put together.  It reminded me a lot of William Stout’s book. I’d love to see Tippet produce a 1-2 hour cgi dinosaur movie in the same vein as Prehistoric Beast; something that spanned the Mesozoic like the BBC/Discovery Channel shows, but with a cinematic (rather than fake documentary) feel, and without the absurdist melodrama, anthropomorphizing, and lame narration that those shows tend to have.

Tippet of course went on to work as “dinosaur supervisor” for Jurassic Park, the first film in which stop-motion (and go-motion) was replaced pretty much permanently by cgi.  Jurassic Park came out the summer after I graduated from high school.  I saw it in a special showing the evening before it officially opened, and again the following day with a big group of people from the Denver Museum.  It was one of the few movies I’ve seen that felt like it was actually made for people with my particular type of psychosis.

Photo provided by Jeffrey Martz

Gary:  Who are paleontologists you admire?

Dr. Jeffrey Martz: The paleontologists I tend to admire the most are those who are motivated, creative, and practical enough to be highly productive, and yet also decent people.  I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from them, although I am not always successful at emulating them.  My earliest mentor in vertebrate paleontology was Kenneth Carpenter, who I met while still a high school student in the early 1990s. I met Ken indirectly through a high school social studies teacher named Susan Roberts, who was friends with Richard Stucky at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (then the Denver Museum of Natural History).  Richard gave me Ken’s phone number, and I was able to arrange to be a student intern in the fossil preparation lab there.

At the time Ken was the chief preparator at the Denver Museum. Ken was someone who was able to juggle a large number of jobs and skill sets and get things done.  He was a fossil preparator who was also participating in the construction of a major exhibit (Prehistoric Journey); his duties included preparing fossils, molding and casting, and welding.  At the same time he was conducting fieldwork during the summer prospecting for and excavating dinosaurs, which requires a lot of knowledge about geology, fossil excavation, local bureaucracy, and running a field camp for a dozen or so people.  Ken is also involved in various research projects, and produces a large volume of scientific papers.

William Parker, the park paleontologist at Petrified Forest National Park, is also someone I have a lot of admiration for.  Bill has also been a good friend for over 10 years.  Bill is someone who is extremely motivated and patient, and very good at figuring out how to use the resources and political machinery available to him to accomplish what he wants to get done.  When Bill first went to work for Petrified Forest, it was a temporary summer position to locate fossil localities in the park.  He made himself indispensible and never left.  Ten years later, “park paleontologist” has become a permanent position because of him, and he has produced a massive research program in which he orchestrates numerous institutions undertaking multiple geology and paleontology projects within the park, as well as sometimes acting as temporary head of two divisions within the park.  Bill has been able to do all of this and generate a great deal of respect for himself within the vertebrate paleontology community, even though he only has a master’s degree, which PhDs often misguidedly look down on.  In addition to all this, he is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin while juggling both his job and a family.

I was certainly nervous the first time I met Richard Stucky and Ken Carpenter at the Denver Museum of Natural History, but this wears off pretty quickly.  Most vertebrate paleontologists are unpretentious and easygoing people; this is a field people stay in because they enjoy it, and it shows.  Paleontologists have faults, like to have fun, and have a history of doing stupid and inexplicable things, just like the rest of humanity.  If you don’t believe me, go to conferences, talk to people at parties, and watch what happens when they have had enough to drink.  You will learn the truth soon enough.

Photo provided by Jeffrey Martz

Gary: What does it take to become a paleontologist?

Dr. Jeffrey Martz: If you want to be a paleontologist, you will probably be in school for quite a while.   It is possible to learn to do scientific research and papers without a degree of any kind, but the more degrees you have, the more jobs you will be eligible for.  Most paleontologists with permanent jobs teach at universities, and it is virtually impossible to get a professorship without a doctorate.

At the undergraduate level, your primary purpose is to acquire knowledge, learn how research and scientific thinking work, and if possible get a head start on making connections you will really need to be making as a graduate student.  Paleontology requires an extremely broad knowledge base, being essentially the bastard child of biology and geology.  When I first started my undergraduate degree, I was just a zoology major; I later pursued studies in geology, and realized too late that I really should have double majored.  I didn’t take quite the right combination of classes to get a geology minor, but I took so many upper division courses that I almost got a second bachelor’s degree; I even instructed some labs for physical geology in my junior and senior years.  I was fortunate in that CSU has excellent biology and geology programs.  It doesn’t hurt to take a few germane anthropology classes either (e.g. paleopathology, paleoanthropology, and field archaeology). 

If you go to a university that does not have a straight up paleontology program with classes and professors specializing in vertebrate paleontology, you will need to educate yourself.  Popular science books are a good start, but you need to start learning how to read scientific papers as well.  It’s a bit like learning to read Shakespeare; the language is befuddling at first, but you eventually pick it up.  Learn what all those weird and complex terms mean.

Remembering all of this information is not as difficult as it might seem; people have an amazing capacity for packing in obscure facts and information, especially when they find it interesting.  Any sports fan or geek can certainly understand this; think about football fans that can give you detailed information on a player’s record, or geeks who know the name of every marginal character in the Star Wars movies, or the production history to every episode of Star Trek.  Paleontologists often come from a solid geek childhood that included collecting information on dinosaurs (or for that matter, Star Wars and Star Trek) from an early age, and I suspect this makes them good at collecting facts.

If you go on to graduate school, keep in mind that you are not just acquiring knowledge anymore, but building toward a career.  Paleontology is a field with few jobs and little money.  You are not simply going to get a degree and have doors automatically open up for you.  To make it as a professional paleontologist, you need to assimilate yourself thoroughly into the professional community, meet people, and let them get to know you and what you are capable of.

As you begin to research your master’s or PhD project, find out who the experts are in your field on your subject, and what other students are working on the same subject.  These are your future colleagues (and friends), the people you will be collaborating on projects with, notifying you of employment opportunities, research projects, and funding projects, and helping you find jobs.  They also know lots of things your don’t, and will appreciate things that you can teach them.  If they get to like you and care about you, and recognize that you are useful to know, they will want to help you.  Go to meetings to meet these people, and try to get out to the field to work with them at fossil digs, hang out and get to know them.  At times when graduate school feels like a crushing weight and jobs are hard to find, having these people in your life will make most of the difference as to whether or not you stay in paleontology, or even want to.

Also learn to sell yourself as a paleontologist to people who don’t know you, namely to people who can offer jobs and grants.  Learn to develop a professional persona that you can project to potential funding sources.  Accumulate job skills and experience, and practice describing these skills confidently and in as few concise sentences as possible.  You need to sound like you have a clear plan about what you will do for the people funding you, and you need to make people feel like they are biggest fools in the universe if they don’t give you money.  You need to become a good writer and speaker, someone who can get a message across clearly and confidently with as few words a possible.  If you can practice these skills while still a grad student, you will have a major leg up when you finish your degree.  Look for student research grants and summer employment opportunities, write your own applications and proposals, and let your colleagues and advisors read and critique them.  Like any other skill set, you get better through practice and accepting constructive criticism.

Also, be aware of what you are in for in grad school.  It will be a lot harder than you think, and there will be times when it seems like you are barely inching forward, the work load is too heavy, the prospects are too small, your motivation is almost nonexistent, and you want to ditch the entire thing and go work at Burger King.  I’m not trying to discourage you; just be aware that it is perfectly normal to go through this.  If you make the firm decision that you will finish no matter what happens…then you will finish, no matter what happens.  Stick with it.  When you need to, take a little time now and then to do fun things and hang out with friends to keep yourself sane.  The future will arrive if you make yourself keep moving.

Photo provided by Jeffrey Martz
Gary:  Why do you believe dinosaurs continue to fascinate the public?

Dr. Jeffrey Martz: Although the American public’s attitude towards science is not always a respectful one, paleontology is a science that is relatively easy to get people enthusiastic about.  I think dinosaurs continue to fascinate people because they are so unlike anything alive today.  To young children and the lay public, dinosaurs are huge, strange and cool-looking animals that include some predators that would be terrifying to meet in person.  To the young dinosaur enthusiast and paleontologist, they become even more fascinating when one learns about their connections to modern animals, especially birds.  Learning about dinosaur biology, phylogeny, and ecology links them firmly to the real world without taking away the strangeness that makes them so interesting. I thought Scott Sampson’s book Dinosaur Odyssey did a fantastic job of presenting dinosaurs as living animals inhabiting living ecosystems; for my money, it’s the best popular dinosaur book on the market.

Other than global warming, evolution is the science that suffers the most widespread resistance from the American public, which is a real shame since it tells an utterly fascinating story about how we got here. Because paleontology has such an appeal to the public, I think it provides a useful gateway to presenting evolution. My House of Bones blog at Labspaces (which I still hope to return to at some point) was largely an attempt to communicate evolution to the public via paleontology.  However, this requires laying some groundwork; since paleontology combines aspects biology and geology, it requires a bit of background in both sciences before it can be explained what paleontology tells us about evolution.  The strategy I adopted was to present a series of blogs giving introductory information on the fields of geology and biology that are relevant to reconstructing evolutionary history.

As I have done more reading into astronomy and cosmology, even more interesting to me is coming to realize how apparently disparate fields of knowledge such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, and biology are connected, how these connections help reinforce what is know about each field, and the big picture this gives us about how and why we got here.  For example, Life on Earth is based on carbon, which is a molecule good at making complex molecules with other atoms, especially oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen.  Life on Earth also depends on water, a molecule which is has a variety of properties useful to metabolism, as well as being slow to change temperature, which creates a more stable environment for aquatic organisms.  Now, of all the planets in our solar system, only the Earth occurs a distance from the Sun that allows large quantities of water to remain liquid rather than freezing or vaporizing.  Moreover, although hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe because of its simplicity, heavier and more complex molecules such as oxygen and nitrogen form within stars during their lifetime and during supernovae, so one or two generations of stars had to pass through their life cycles and explode before it was even possible for many planets and complex organisms to exist.  Therefore, our form of life appeared where and when it did in the history of the Universe for particular reasons that make more and more sense as you see more and more pieces.  This example really only scratches the surface of what we’ve learned. 

Aside from resistance to science for religious reasons, I see two big problems for explaining to the public what we know about how we got here.  One is how much basic information needs to be learned before the big picture starts to come into focus.  The other is what a truly bizarre picture that is; the story of how we progressed over 13 billion years from an unimaginably dense and hot concentration of pure energy to a species of ape than can build spaceships and computers is almost to incredible to be believe, even though we have more than enough evidence to see at least the broad outlines of this story, and many parts of it in greater detail. And yet, the bulk of the public still thinks that science is so clueless about how we got here that invoking a supernatural being to make things poof into existence through some vaguely defined process (i.e. “magic”) is still a reasonable explanation.  I think that the widespread acceptance of such a simplistic and uninformative explanation, which glosses over the amazingly complex and fascinating picture being uncovered by science, is a real tragedy.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Frothy Fossil Friday and field work!

What is field work like for a budding paleontologist?  When it comes to the general public, a lot of folks believe it is as easy as finding a complete skeleton buried only under a few millimeters of dirt.  Perfectly preserved in a rigor mortis pose where the head is bent back towards the tail.  Although dinosaur skeletons can be found in great shape, paleontology rarely works this way.  Not to mention, field work can often turn up animals that lived at the same time as dinosaurs, but are not dinosaurs.

 photo tublr2.gif

I have been a paleontology student during research in New Mexico for many years in conjunction with my studies back home where I study geology.  That being said, I believe this would be a great time to take you though a day in the life of working in the field.  I have been fortunate enough to have made many fantastic discoveries over the years. I can not go into detail about most of what I have found because these discoveries are still being researched.  However, my professor and mentor has given me permission to use one find as an example for this article's topic!

During the summer of 2011, I found something magnificent.  My day in the field started off like many others.  I awoke at the crack of dawn and for good reason.  Getting an early start in the field means cooler weather for digging.  Temperatures out here can reach into the 100s!  Drinking plenty of water is key in order to not suffer from the heat.  I had just come off the heels of making a great find, so I was eager to start prospecting a new area within our site.  That is one subject I should touch on briefly.  Having an extensive background in geology is a vital key in the field.  Knowing the landscape and what time period you're in makes tracking down a potential spot to dig a bit easier than aimlessly digging around.

It wasn't long before I began cautiously digging on the edge of our dig site.  It is very important to be careful when excavating a site.  Whacking away at rocks until you find something is not the way to go. Removing sediment and rock a little at a time is what it is all about.  Starting from the top and basically working your way down.  One piece at a time.  A strong amount of patience and skill will assure you do not damage whatever may be beneath the surface.  It wasn't long until luck had struck me again with a find.  At first, I believed I had found a tooth.  I couldn't be more wrong.  I would soon find out that my "tooth" was indeed something more wonderful.

Immediately after making a discovery, it is important to alert whomever is in charge of the field site.  In this case, my professor, mentor, and good friend, Dr. Axel Hungerbuehler.  At this point, precise measurements and documentations are made.  It is important to have proper recordings of what is found in the field.  This information is vital for later analysis of your find.  Orientation, level of elevation, and where precisely a fossil was found are just a few examples of documenting a find.  From this point on, getting the find out in one piece was all that went through my mind.  I diligently began working the rock around the find. Being careful to not displace the matrix in which my fossil was surrounded by.  Working off the over layers of rock is a good idea, but loosening up the surrounding rock is also.  The Triassic stone in my area fit together more or less like a puzzle. By removing a corner piece a rock about a foot away from my find made it easier to remove rock closer to it.  Little by little, you need to think 10 steps ahead while trenching around a fossil.  Moving one piece may upset another and so on.  

You can see in the above picture that more and more of what was thought to be a "tooth" was now taking shape.  Sometimes you are lucky and the matrix will pop off your find in the field.  Although a Estwing hammer is shown in this photo, it was only used for scale.  Dental tools, small brushes, and very fine tipped tools were used in removing the surrounding rock.  On my belly, being very patient, I continued to trench around my amazing find.  For the first time in millions of years, a bone from an extinct animal was about to see the light of day again.

Soon my find was beginning to take shape.  A rib, but from what type of animal?  Where we excavate produces many extraordinary beasts.  Although dinosaur finds can be made, you are also likely to find other sorts of extinct animals.  In this particular case, we had what could possibly be a gastralium or belly rib of a Typothorax.  To the untrained eye, this animal can appear like an armored dinosaur.  In fact, Typothorax coccinarum was not a dinosaur at all and from a group called aetosaurs.  

After two days, my rib was finally exposed.  Two days!  Did I mention patience should be your best virtue in the field?  Yes, you must have patience.  It is very exciting to make a find, but you must take your time.  During the process of digging and after, special products were applied to keep the bone preserved.  You have to remember, this rib was seeing the light of day for the first time in millions of years.  When first exposed, it almost looked wet and appeared as if it was fresh off the animal.  When air hit it, the bone started to dry out almost immediately and it became very fragile.  Not all bones found in the field are robust and strong.  The video that follows is me removing the matrix from this magnificent find while a colleague looks on.

Below you can see the rib pretty much free, but before taking any further steps, we had to secure it.  Protecting fossils with a plaster jacket is sometimes needed.  This will ensure the bones safety until getting it back to the lab.  Once at the museum, we can take further actions to preserve a find.

In the following video, you can observe one of the crew members putting a field jacket on my find.  Our field truck rattles and shakes like crazy when climbing up the steep cliffs surrounding our site.  The next step will be to further protect the bone with padding and get it ready for the rough ride home.  There are no paved roads into where we go, so we don't want fossils getting banged around. We managed to get this rib out on the very last day.  Talk about perfect timing.  Next stop, the lab!

Once back at the lab we unwrapped the rib and the prepping began.  However, time was running and I would soon have to return home.  I would not have time to prep my find completely, but during my leave, the good professor carried on.  When I returned for my next field season, I was shown the finished work.  Wow, was all that ran through my mind.  There it was in all its glory.  Cleaned and prepped.  

Special thanks to Dr. Axel for his amazing work and help.  He is brilliant man, my mentor, and I will always be his appreciative student.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tap Talk Tuesday with Ashley Hall!

Two people who I admire in the field of paleontology are Ashley and Lee Hall. I consider them both to be very good friends and I'm honored to have met them. I entered the field of geology and paleontology with the innocence and excitement of a kid. Meeting these two fine paleontologists reminded me to stay the course, study hard, and never give up on your dreams.

Hi there! My name is Ashley Hall and I work full-time as a Gallery Interpreter (educator) at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County where I give tours about dinosaurs, alleviate fears about arachnids, and get drooled on by opossums. As part of this job, I also give tours of the La Brea Tar Pits; the largest Ice Age fossil locality in the world. On my 6th day of work, you can find me at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology where I’m one of the Assistant Curators of Paleontology.

Photo provided by Ashley Hall.

Question 1: You are currently involved in the field of paleontology. Who did you admire growing up in regards to this fascinating field?

I really admired Jack Horner and Robert Bakker. As a little girl, I loved going to the library with my Mom to pick out new books and VHS tapes about dinosaurs (YES, VHS tapes are now fossils themselves)! One of the VHS tapes I remember vividly featured paleontologists in the field digging up dinosaurs—we didn’t have fancy CGI back then, so real paleontologists digging up dinosaurs in the field were the stars of the show and I grew up idolizing them.

Photo provided by Ashley Hall.

Question 2: At what age did you get inspired to pursue a career in paleontology?

Age 4. I was in love with dinosaurs from the minute I knew what they were. I wasn’t your typical little girl. I loved jewelry and playing with Barbies, but I also had a huge bag full of dinosaurs. If you ask my parents, they’d tell you that I used to walk around at family gatherings telling relatives which dinosaurs lived in which time periods. I was determined to work with fossils when I grew up. My parents, who used to take me on holiday vacations to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, told me that if I wanted to be a paleontologist, I could. They’ve always been my cheerleaders.

Question 3: What was your favorite dinosaur growing up? What dinosaur is your favorite now?

Parasaurolophus. I had a pink Playskool Parasaurolophus toy that I LOVED. Ironically, the Raymond M. Alf Museum, where I work now, is the only museum in the world to have a complete, articulated baby Parasaurolophus in its collection. I was able to help excavate, curate, and catalog its’ bones, which was a dream come true. Whenever I look at it, I feel like I’m five years old again.

If you want to learn more about the baby Parasaurolophus named “baby Joe”, go to http://dinosaurjoe.org or see him in person at the museum. Parasaurolophus is still my favorite after all these years. There’s just something about that fabulous crest. 

Question 4: Paleontology is such a diverse field these days involving many disciplines. What advice would you give to an aspiring paleontologist today?

READ read read! Research by reading books, browsing the web, or by visiting local natural history museums.

Also, don’t set your mind on working exclusively with dinosaurs when you grow up—try to keep an open mind. You may end up falling in love with fossils that aren’t dinosaurs like Dimetrodon, invertebrates like trilobites, or even fossil plants. The world is FULL of wonderful and weird groups of fossil organisms that aren’t dinosaurs (believe it or not)! If you have it in your mind that you’re going to specialize on one group of animals, you’re only limiting yourself to what you’re willing to work on.

Question 5: Were there any subjects in college you dreaded?

Algebra. I put it off until my senior year of college. Don’t do that. I barely passed!

Question 6: What was or is your favorite research project? What are some of your current projects?

Oooh! I have a few research projects going on. See Lee Hall’s interview for details.

Question 7: Jurassic Park was the movie I remember as a kid that fueled my passion for dinosaurs. What was your most memorable movie?  How do you feel about the new movie in the series from what you’ve heard?

Jurassic Park, of course! I saw it when I was 9 years old and it changed the way I looked at dinosaurs forever. Jurassic Park was the catalyst that fueled my fire to pursue paleontology. I love Jurassic Park so much that my husband, Lee Hall, proposed to me at the original filming site where Dr. Grant scares the kid with the Velociraptor claw. Lee, dressed as Dr. Grant, made me reenact the entire “6 foot turkey” scene and then pulled the claw out of his pocket—except he didn’t use the claw to slash at me--instead, he had a beautiful ring delicately placed on the end and asked me to marry him. A year later, we had a Jurassic Park themed wedding! You could say Jurassic Park has had quite the effect on my life. ;) You can actually watch our proposal on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpaP-loki-k

Photo provided by Ashley Hall.

Question 8: I remember meeting my first professional paleontologist. Do you remember the first paleontologist you ever met? Were you a nervous wreck?

Honestly, I can’t remember. It might have been Dr. Luis Chiappe and yes, I think I was quite nervous! He’s famous for his research of the evolution of birds—something that I’ve always been enamored by—so meeting him was like meeting a celebrity!

Question 9: Dinosaurs and the animals that lived at the same time as them were amazing creatures. Why do you feel dinosaurs continue to fascinate us?

I think people like dinosaurs because they’re similar to animals today, but just different enough to really challenge our imaginations. Fossil mammals like mammoths are great, but they’re SO similar to elephants today. There isn’t anything quite like Brachiosaurus or T.rex around today, and I think that’s why they’ve captured our imaginations. It’s almost unimaginable to think that we walk on the same planet where they once ruled for millions of years. It’s also hard for us to grasp the concept that something so big and successful can become extinct. It helps put our own human existence in perspective.

Question 10: What is your favorite time period?

The Late Cretaceous. Most of the excavations I’ve been a part of have been in Late Cretaceous sediments. I’ve walked on eggshells, gotten stuck in Cretaceous mud, and have held hundreds of dinosaur, crocodile, and turtle bones in my career. If I had to go back in time, it would be to the Late Cretaceous of Montana or Utah so that I could finally see and smell the environment and all of its many, awe-striking animals and plants. 

Question 11: Coelophysis is my favorite dinosaur from the sites I’ve work in! What is your favorite dinosaur from your fieldwork sites?

Probably Troodon formosus from Egg Mountain in Montana. Troodon was toothy, large, and was an awesome parent based on what we’ve learned about their nests. Seeing them take care of their tiny, fuzzy chicks would have been an adorable sight. 

Photo provided by Ashley Hall.
Question 12: Geology, among many disciplines of study, is such a vital subject when studying the past. Why do you feel this background is important to know when hunting dinosaurs?

Geology is the glue that binds paleontology together. Erosion helps us find them in the first place. Delicate footprints, like pterosaur tracks, are only preserved because of the type of substrate the animal walked on. That same sediment can help you determine what type of environment the animal lived in and possibly died in because of tiny microfossils. Geology, most importantly, can help us understand what forces helped preserve the fossils in the first place. In paleontology, nothing makes sense except in the light of geology.

Question 13: Where can our audience go to learn more about your work and support what you do?

You can visit me at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (http://www.nhm.org), The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits (http://www.tarpits.org) and at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, CA (http://alfmuseum.org). Follow me on Twitter: @ladynaturalist and on Instagram: lady_naturalist. 

Photo provided by Ashley Hall.

Question 14: What else do you enjoy? What other interesting hobbies do you have?

Recently, I’ve taken up taxidermy through Allis Markham’s classes in Los Angeles. I have a fascination with ALL dead things—taxidermy, fossils, and bones. I also draw and paint, love listening to music by Gwen Stefani and Taylor Swift, and love shopping. Like I said, girls can still be girly girls and love dinosaurs, too.

Question 15:  Have you ever been to New Jersey?

No! But I’d love to visit someday!

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Only Surviving Cretaceous Dinosaur Track from New Jersey

Rutgers Geology Museum

Around 1929-1930, discoveries were made of Cretaceous dinosaur tracks in New Jersey!  In January 1929, the first set of tracks were found by men working in a pit at Hampton Cutter Clay Works in Woodbridge.  The New Jersey State Museum made a valiant effort to save them at the time, but they were destroyed.  However, not before they were photographed and sketched in the field by Meredith Johnson of the New Jersey Geological Survey.  The notes he took recorded evidence of a large, three-toed, bipedal dinosaur!  In 1930, in the same area, a second trackway was uncovered.  This time, paleontologists from Rutgers University were sent in to the site.  A single footprint was removed.  This one track is now the one sole survivor on display at the Rutgers Geological Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Photo by Gary Vecchiarelli

In March of 1930, a third set of tracks were unearthered yet again! On this occasion, a team of geologists and paleontologist headed down to the area.  Katherine Graywacz, of The New Jersey State Museum, renewed efforts in acquiring the trackways.  While every effort was made to save the tracks using the tools of the trade, four were apparently removed and a fifth one was destroyed in the process.  Dr. Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History identified the tracks as that of a large carnivorous dinosaur.  The famed paleontologist also noted at the time that these prints were the only surviving Cretaceous dinosaur tracks known east of the Mississippi.

Dr. Barnum Brown showing Dinosaur Tracks to students in 1938.
Property of the American Museum of Natural History.

The last set of tracks removed from the clay pit were going to become an exhibit at The New jersey State Museum.  Copies of the tracks were to be sent to The American Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian Institute, and The Yale Peabody Museum.  Apparently this never came to be and the fate of the four removed prints to this day are a mystery.  The only available find today is the one track I mentioned earlier now on display at The Rutgers Geological Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  That track was from the January 1930 discoveries and was one of nine total found from 1929-1930.

WHERE A DINOSAUR ONCE ROAMED c. 1930  Hampton Cutter clay pit.

It is interesting to mention, that Dr. Donald Baird, a former professor of Princeton University, described further evidence of these amazing tracks from Woodbridge, New jersey.  He described that the footprints were around four feet apart, with the midline of the trackway passing through the base of the inner toe prints.  This would indicate a dinosaur walking upright with its legs tucked in directly beneath its body.  It was noted that no tail marks were noticed, so the animal must have walked with the tail lifted off the ground.  The tracks measured some 20 inches from the tip of the middle toe to the base of the heal!  The toe marks end with a claw mark.  There is even evidence on the Rutgers print of a backward-pointing 'spur' or hallux, the impression of the vestigial first [or "big"] toe.  He recorded that the tracks were around 90 million years old.  The prints were made in damp clay and were almost immediately filled by an overwash of alluvial sand.  He also noted that the 90 million year old footprints preserved under these exceptional circumstances is as unexpected as it is fortunate.

Works Cited:

Gallagher, William B. When Dinosaurs Roamed New Jersey. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997. 67-69. Print.

Troeger, Virginia B., and Robert J. McEwen. Woodbridge: New Jersey's Oldest Township. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2002. 9-11. Print.