Wildlife & Wild Places

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 9

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

How much  is there to say about mud? Brown, wet and cold. Not very amusing to look at.

How much is there to say about fog? Not very exciting that either.

How much is there to say about 12 men in a hole?

A bit more.

The excavated hole is now deep enough for team members to stand up in. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

For example that four of them are women. Then that I have never seen more wet and dirty people – ever. Not that I’ve seen happier people either. This gang’s morale can’t be broken.

And Svalbard really tried to break us yesterday.

If Friday was mud hell, I’ll give up trying to find a suitable word for today. It was spent up on the hill with our beloved plesiosaur fossil, “Britney.”

I have never seen more wet and dirty people – ever. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

 

The “sardines in a tin can” feeling might be the worst part. The feeling of being stuck in something you can’t get out of. Not even if you go inside. It’s twilight. You can’t see further than a couple of meters. We’re in the middle of a cloud. It doesn’t rain. It’s just wet. The air is as much drops of water as oxygen. The drops move upwards, downwards, sideways – and penetrate everything.

If Friday was mud hell, I’ll give up trying to find a suitable word for today. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

 

And still the group wasn’t broken. You could hear laughter in the mountain slopes, while we struggled to dig ton after ton of rock and mud out of the permafrost.

Despite the weather, the group wasn’t broken. You could hear laughter in the mountain slopes. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

 

But we haven’t yet found the answer to our biggest question: is there a skull at the end of this huge neck?

Twelve hours on the borders of superhuman exertion allowed us to plaster, chisel around, and carve out Britney’s body. And also gnaw several meters down in a second hole next to the first. And then tear down the wall between them.

After digging a second hole, the next task was to tear down the wall between them. Photo by Erik Tunstad.

 

The achievement deserved a group picture – and some hot freeze-dry food in the mess tent sometime early Monday morning.

Some hours of sleep now – and then we’ll look for the answer: Is there a head inside that hill?

After twelve hours of digging, a group portrait was necessary to commemorate the achievement. 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

Sea Monsters of the North: Day 8

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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