Sea Monsters of the North: Day 5

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

You get the urge to just walk and walk and walk. The sun’s baking in the mountain side, not a breath of wind, and the air is so clear that you can see the glacier fronts across the fjord. The arctic summer at its most magnificent. Pat and Jørn know there is at least one plesiosaur down there somewhere- “But there must be more,” says Pat, “it can’t possibly be more than a stone’s throw between the fossils.”

The air is so clear that you can see the glacier fronts across the fjord. The arctic summer at its most magnificent. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

The spot is like one from a text book, Jørn says when we’re down. A collection of clear, white bones –and more flowing out evenly down the slope like a fan.

At first, most of us would probably take them for white rocks, but with a closer look anyone would recognize them as fossilized bones. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

At first, most of us would probably take them for white rocks, but with a closer look anyone would recognize them as fossilized  bones. Jørn discovered some of them a couple of days ago, and following the trail of bones, he soon found the source. Under and in the mountain lies the remains of a prehistoric monster–an animal that lived and died here a hundred and fifty million years ago.

The spongey structure of bone makes the bright white rocks instantly recognizable as fossils. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

We start looking around, for details in the gravel. Soon Stig has noticed something–another stream of white bone fragments. We have another dig spot. Pat picks up a rock and throws it. He was right; it wasn’t more than a stone’s throw away.

Volunteer Stig Larsen smiles as he examines a fossil from another new site, just a stone's throw from the last one. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

The arctic summer is changeable, and when I check the find a day later, the polar fog is covering the mountain side. You cannot see further than ten meters. I feel safest with the shotgun over my shoulder. It’s been no more than a year since the polar bear attack on a British camp on the other side of the fjord, where a teenager lost his life.

Everything is grey and slightly dark. I am surrounded by unclear shapes, rocks, and mounds. Every little crack could be sheltering a hungry predator. Would I see it in time­?

The slightly scary atmosphere evaporates with the sound of womanly song: “Your mouth is filled with razor teeth/Your eyes are green from lust for meat /Ichthyosaur, Ichthyosaur …”

Aubrey, Victoria–and Lena with her Magnum 44—pause their singing for a moment to show me how Jørn’s beautiful bones can’t quite fulfill expectations: there’s just dust, clay, and ribs. Not much to celebrate after 24 hours of hard work.

“I’m too sexy for this hole,” Aubrey and Victoria sing with big smiles on their faces. I find it necessary to check how the guys are doing on the other side of the mountain slope.

We break camp in a week.



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

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 4

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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