Sea Monsters of the North: Day 8

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

Move that mountain!

It sounds like a tall order, but the order Jørn served for breakfast Saturday morning was not far from it.

Jørn Hurum, the Man Without a Head. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

The title of Jørn’s autobiography – if it is ever written – should be “Eight Years Without a Head.” As long as he has worked up here, digging out one plesiosaur after the other, he still hasn’t found a skull belonging to the creature. Of course it is frustrating.

But now we have a last chance, and it is called Britney. This specimen has been talked a lot about in the previous blogs – lying on its belly in the mud, with 46 neck vertebrae going into the permafrost. We have released 16 of them. The question is what is at the thin end?

To get the answer we have to move the mountainside around the hole, a further two to three meters – measured horizontally into the side of the mountain.

So: The main task for the few remaining days is to follow Britney. And what a hole we’ll create in the process!

Jørn is right. The crater we have to carve out, mainly by hand, will have an end wall of four or five meters or more. It will be one of our biggest ever.

Far from being daunted by the colossal digging project, the team is energized and fighting over the chance to get in the hole and dig. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

Once again are demonstrated the fantastic dynamics in the group. You would have thought the prospect of moving tons of waterlogged permafrost – hack it up and haul it out, push and pull it over the crater wall – hour after hour after hour – with muscles hurt, backs screaming – in fog, wind and occasionally sun – you would have thought the prospect would make people sneak out the back door. Especially since all of the dirt has to be moved twice – first out, then in again.

But no. People are almost fighting over who gets to go into the hole. They are in a queue along the edge. Throwing themselves over the heaps of mud like you wouldn’t believe. This mountain is going down! And it’s going down NOW.

After a couple of hours, we start seeing the results.

Before we quit for the night around one o’clock, we are well on our way to the layer of rock that will give us the answer to the Big Mystery of the Head. Sunday will be an exciting day.



Throughout the expedition, from high on the mountain, you can see the entire camp below. Everything the roughly one dozen team members need to survive and complete their work, spread out in full view. It’s particularly interesting to compare with the following time-lapse video the team sent just before departing, which shows them loading all their gear into one shipping container that would accompany them to this island at the top of the world.

From high on the mountain, you can see the entire camp below. It's amazing to think that almost all of it fit into one shipping container. 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

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 7

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