Sea Monsters of the North: Day 7

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

From bad to worse.

Thursday night was mud hell in Britney the Plesiosaur’s dig site. In the course of the day today – Friday – hell has expanded to include the whole area.

Even the mess tent.

The girls got to know it first, when they sledged down from Britney on Thursday night; Even in the toughest outfit, you can get wet to the skin.

The elderly among us, put it down to youthful mindlessness.

Now we all suffer.

Between fog, freeze, and mud, in the course of the day, hell expanded to include the whole area. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

For years,  I have dreamed about building my own indoor rain forest in the garden. Now I have found a cheap solution. The inside of the storage tent looks like a scene from the Amazon – except that the lianas are exchanged for  steaming wet or dripping supposedly waterproof outfits, labeled Øglegraverne 2010.

The steaming wet and dripping supposedly waterproof outfits hang like Amazon vines inside the tent. Photo by Erik Tunstad.


The air humidity is also much the same. Which leaves the detail of temperature.

You can say the same about the neighboring tent, the mess tent, where I now sit – early Saturday morning – rewriting yesterday’s sketches. I spend more time drying off condensation than writing. It’s dripping – no; pouring – from the ceiling. The clothes stick to the skin. It’s cold, nasty and wet, wet, wet.

So, if Britney was “dirty” yesterday – today she was worse (and I’m now back on Friday again). It was hard to stand upright, the perma-mud was slippery, the boots were turned into clumps of concrete – which turned our gait into some kind of trendy walking.

The expedition, on the other hand, is more vital than ever. A little mud doesn’t break us down, and we are now, mentally, in some sort of pre-sprint condition. Jørn has control of the situation. We already have claimed enough prizes to justify the whole trip. On top of that, we have opened a series of new finds, evaluated them, and found them to be wanting. There is just not enough time. We already have Britney, the plesiosaur far west up on the mountainside, the grand hope for a skull.

Oyvind points out the vertebrae in Britney′s neck heading into the permafrost. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

We also have Bunny, the plesiosaur I started on – on Sunday?  And we have have Black Beauty, the ichthyosaur Victoria and Aubrey have entertained and sung about for the past few days. This is the specimen I sort of presented as a disappointment. But in this line of work, anything can change. The girls uncovered a beautiful backbone – and the big job of the evening was to transform the three meter long animal to three stone blocks encapsulated in plaster for easier and safer helicopter transport to bring it back to the lab for final cleaning.

After a week of climbing, digging, and plastering, reaching into tiny places to finish a plastering job can be exhausting. Photo by Erik Tunstad.


A job like this needs manpower, and most of the team spent the evening with Black Beauty digging, plastering, sawing, hauling, lifting and last but not least digging some more. When we were done a little past midnight, you needed a trained eye to see where the mud people had practiced their strange rituals, just a few hours earlier.

Now it was just a beautiful, tidy, and freshly raked mountainside – with three white plaster lumps, each a few hundred kilos a piece: helicopter food.

Despite all that's already been found, and the short time left for excavation, everywhere you look up here there is something worthy of note. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

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

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 5

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 6–Mountain vs. Chainsaw

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