Spitsbergen Expedition: Final Excavation

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 11

As happens every year, we end up with too many exciting discoveries, and too few days, so we now have to select the last fossils to excavate; we have not enough time for all of them. Pat and Espen went to the Karoline Valley to excavate the fossil Nille found a couple of days ago, where the vertebrae were particularly well preserved. After some digging they found that the bones unfortunately were disarticulated (not placed in natural order), but the output was good after all.

The vertebrae the team had searched so long for unfortunately were jumbled, but still plentiful. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


The main dig of the day was the fossil we have named “Nillefanten.” This is probably a new species to science, and is much older than the rest of the Ichthyosaurs we have found in this area. We know that because it is found in a lower layer than the others. However, it is particularly fragile as it has been exposed to repeated frosts, and we have to be very careful when excavating. Tomorrow we will end this quarry and prepare “Nillefanten” for the transport back to the museum.

Tommy and Stig keep their heads up and watch for polar bears while the others keep their heads down and excavate. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.
Despite freezing weather, threats of bears, and two weeks of roughing it, Julie's spirits are as high as ever. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.
Charlotte, Øyvind, and Nille look up from the mats that cushion and insulate them while brushing off exposed fossils. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


Also today, Tommy and Krzysztof went to look for more seeps where fossils could be found (or just a nice view?), but were caught in a snow storm approaching the top of the Konus mountain.

Tommy and Kryztof get caught by a surprise snow storm. Photo courtesy Jørn Hurum.


Finally, after a long working day the team gathered around in a tent for a good meal. Aside from the soda cans, this is pretty much the same scene that people have enacted in these far northern areas for thousands of years.

Jørn, Stig, Nille, and Øyvind share a timeless meal, warm and safe in the tent. 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