Spitsbergen Expedition: This Is Where the Fun Starts!

2011 Emerging Explorer Jørn Hurum is currently leading a fossil-finding expedition to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, continuing the work that has yielded many spectacular fossils through the years (Giant “Sea Monster” Fossil Discovered). Follow the expedition here on Nat Geo NewsWatch.

Day 3

Today we started excavating the fossils after all the hard work digging the previous two days. We have so far located two plesiosaur and several ichthyosaur fossils. Plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs are  ″sea monsters″ from the Upper Jurassic Period 150 million years ago. The area in which we have located these fossils is situated on the mountainside of ″Janusfjellet″ on the archipelago of Spitsbergen. The two dig sites nearest the camp, an ichthyosaur and a plesiosaur are going well. The ichthyosaur fossil is a bit of a mess, but several interesting teeth have been discovered. The plesiosaur, nicknamed ″Gully″, which we started excavating last year, looks promising (apart from the fact that the head is yet to be located, as with every plesiosaur discovered from this area).

With a dusting brush included for scale, a close up shows the first of Gully's bones to be unearthed this year. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.

Uncovering one of the hind flippers was a fantastic experience for Aubrey as it was her first dig. She was hyper for several hours uncovering bone after bone until the entire flipper was uncovered.   Espen located part of what we thought at the time was the neck, but it unfortunately turned out to be a tail. Today the head−hunt continues.

Gully's toes and the shape of the flipper become clear. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


In the Konus Valley, over the mountain from camp, several specimens are being excavated. Today, work began in earnest on three of the most promising skeletons. A bit of brushing quickly exposed a beautiful series of articulated neck vertebrae of the plesiosaur. In total, 27 vertebrae were exposed, and surprisingly, several teeth were also found near the base of the neck (but so far, no skull). We finished up for the day by mixing our first batch of plaster  to cover up the exposed portion. Two of the three finds are ichthyosaurs that were partially exposed yesterday. After several hours of work it was possible to tell that one is going tail-first, and the other is head- first, into the hill. By the end of the day we were excited to find what may be the skull of the latter, but time ran out before we could uncover much. It must wait for tomorrow!

The day ended with the sun shining over Isfjorden and Tommy′s evening entertainment, all in all a very good day.

Only at altitudes this extreme are you able to say things like "the day ended with the sun shining." Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Jørn Harald Hurum was born in Drammen, a city on southeastern Norway. Since childhood he has collected fossils and minerals in the Oslo region. Since 2000 he has been employed at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo where he works as an associate professor in vertebrate paleontology. At the University he teaches paleontology and evolutionary biology and supervises masters and Ph.D. students. One recent outreach effort brought him on stage before a general audience interested in his Arctic island project excavating fossils of ancient sea monsters. “There was a four-year-old in the front row and he couldn’t stop asking questions, really good questions” Hurum remembers. “This little boy was so excited to know there was somebody else who understood the things he was wondering about. He made my whole day! As a child, I felt very alone with my interest in fossils. Finally at age 13, I discovered there was a museum in Norway that actually employed people to study paleontology. I started corresponding with those scientists and it was such a relief, such an inspiration. I hope I can give some of that spirit back to the next generation.” Learn More About Jørn and His Work