Wildlife & Wild Places

Spitsbergen Expedition: Plastering Fossil “Sea Monsters”

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 4-5

Today we started plastering our exposed fossils, which is always a fun job. Getting into big jump suits and playing around with something  that has the same consistency as mud, you get the feeling you are back in kindergarten. It was especially amusing how, as a result of our plastering, ″Gully″ started to look like different continents.

The plaster that was poured over the exposed parts of Gully's fossilized skeleton took on the appearance of a map of continents of a different era. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.

In the Konus valley Tommy and Nille excavated more of the ribs and the vertebrae column of an ichtyosaur making their way presumably towards a tail (again). Pat, Espen and Krzysztof had already plastered up parts of another ichtyosaur further up the hill. So all in all we have had a lot of progress the past couple of days.

Camping out on Spitsbergen, polar bears can be a dangerous issue. We have several methods of insuring our safety: To start with we have all our food and drink in the mess tents about a 100m or so away from our sleeping tents. Polar bears can be curious if they smell food, so avoiding keeping food were we sleep is vital. We also have a tripwire system around our sleeping area and the mess tents. Tripwires can be tricky, and there have been incidents were tripwires didn′t go off. Yesterday Nille kindly tested our tripwire system for us, and it worked perfectly. As we have a polar bear that’s been observed recently only a few kilometers away from the camp, we organized polar bear watches all night. We have to take every precaution necessary to avoid getting into a situation where we have to shoot a bear.

A low and moody sun-and-cloudscape captures the sense of beauty and danger so palpabale in the far north. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.

 

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

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