Sea Monsters of the North: Day 3

NG Emerging Explorer Jørn Hurum is currently on Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic Circle excavating the remains of ancient marine reptiles worthy of the most fantastic Norse legends. Follow the expedition here on Explorers Journal through updates from him and his team, and catch up on his previous expedition for more.


By Erik Tunstad

Its eight o’clock, lunch is over. Fair enough, considering that I woke up at eight. Twelve hours ago.

The rest of the team members are on their way up to their mountain quarries once more. I can see five of them from where I am sitting: five dark heaps of dirt against the gray shale, and the outline of holes in the mountain behind.

The rest of the team members are on their way up to their mountain quarries once more. Photo courtesy Erik Tunstad.

Victoria and Lena are about to creep down into their hole. The plesiosaur is still promising, but no more.

Tommy has got Stig and Bjorn with him, so over there things are about to happen. Their fossil was covered with the first layers of plaster earlier today. Now they have brought a chain saw.

Pat and Jørn have just started plastering their “praying ichthyosaur”. They have a further walk, past Krzysztof’s log and to the left.

Pat and Jørn get some help plastering their “praying ichthyosaur” fossil. Photo courtesy Erik Tunstad.

Even further up in the same direction I can see the reason for our delayed lunch, the three newcomers, Aubrey, Julie, and Oyvind. They have already opened their own quarry all the way up the hillside. A plesiosaur. It was discovered during yesterday’s search.

I can hear the chain saw now. Stig and Bjorn are in full action. There is shale everywhere, and soon the lump of plaster has the shape of an altar.

Chainsaws help clear the rock surrounding the fossil, which takes on the appearance of an altar. Photo courtesy Erik Tunstad.

According to Jørn, we are way ahead of schedule. Plastering is usually something the group is hurrying to get done in the last days, and we are only on day three. Good!

I will probably start on my way up the hill soon too.

I’m on the other side now. I could have done some interesting work down here too. When we arrived on Friday and found this spot, one of the more or less flat areas, we had to clear away lots of pebbles and rocks.

Jørn soon discovered that it wasn’t rocks, but bone fragments, the remains of a kind of plesiosaur, called a pliosaur. One of the biggest and most ferocious predators of them all. We are camping on one!

The rest of the body is probably up the hill somewhere. Jørn keeps looking.

So far all the bones have been gathered in our small museum, and are shown to the tourists as they keep coming in from Longyearbyen, the nearest major permanent human habitation.

This year's bones on display on a rock, with plastic models of the animals from which they came. Photo courtesy Erik Tunstad.

Well, I better go up and watch the plaster massacre up there. It could be a nice and long haul. And the weather forecast predicts sun after midnight, Victoria says.

Or after dinner, as we say around here.


Read More From the Expedition

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 1

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 2

All Posts From Jørn Hurum


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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