Wildlife

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 4

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

Stig, Pat, and Jørn are clinging to the stone block.

Within it, under layers of plaster and supported by iron, lies the head of a huge ichthyosaur. It’s the specimen Tommy found right after we arrived last Saturday. The plaster was applied yesterday.

Then we let ourselves loose on the mountain side, armed with pick axes, shovels and a chain saw. After we’ve created some work space, the beast will be released!

The men apply wet plaster and burlap on the sides and as far under the block as they’ve dared to dig. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

The men are applying wet plaster and burlap on the sides and as far under the block as they’ve dared to dig. There is a risk that the brittle rock with a consistency of a heap of shingle will fall out and with it, the valuable fossils.

Everything has to be glued and stabilized.

After ten minutes of intense, the plaster has dried and the men can stretch sore backs for a couple of minutes, before we’re ready for the next layer. And the next. And the next.

After ten minutes of intense, the plaster has dried and the men can stretch sore backs for a couple of minutes, before we’re ready for the next layer. And the next. And the next. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

After a couple of hours we start the work of getting the chisels through the rock under the plaster mushroom. The chisels glide through easier than we thought, and after a while we have a well stabilized fossil.

After a bit of work with the pickaxes and chainsaws, the beast will be released! Photo by Erik Tunstad.

We are ready for the final lift.

“We have never really messed up,” says Jorn. With emphasis on the word really. He’s saying this with 31 successfully excavated skeletons through eight years of experience – and knows there’s a real chance that the bones may fall out.

The moment is closing in. The reinforcements are in place, in the form of our teammates from the surrounding mountain sides. We are about to turn over the several-hundred-kilo plaster jacket, and it has to happen in a quick and smooth movement – without unnecessary twisting and pushing. Jørn and Tommy will lift it, the others will pull.

Everyone lends a hand to pull the plastered fossil out by force. Photo by Erik Tunstad.
With a heave on the rope and a push from below, the plastered fossil-block is flipped free from the Earth. Photo by Erik Tunstad.
As the block becomes free, the tension gives way and the heavers collapse at the other end of the rope. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

 

Then, with a “one-two-three” and a minor exertion, the job is done.

Or, at least almost. To reduce weight and volume we’ll have to dig down to the bone from underneath.

And then, almost finally, the least inspiring job: filling-in the hole. Every gram of earth and stone we have dug out has to be put back.

“When we are finished, only a geologist can see that we were here,” Jørn boasts.

Near the end, the least inspiring job: filling-in the hole. Every gram of earth and stone we have dug out besides the plastered fossil has to be put back. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

Finally, the whole thing has to be dragged down to the camp.

There’s enough to do here.

 

Read More From the Expedition

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 1

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 2

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 3

All Posts From 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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