In 2012, the Spitsbergen Jurassic Research Group led by National Geographic Explorer Dr. Jørn Hurum finished off their final field season on Svalbard. After eight consecutive years, the project of locating and excavating marine reptiles from the Upper Jurassic has been a success. Nevertheless, the team is not as dead as the reptiles. Down in the dark basement of the Geological Museum there is a laboratory, where all the prehistoric sea monsters from Svalbard are brought back to life.
By Aubrey Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash
Oslo in the summertime is quiet, the trains don’t go as often, shops and even restaurants stay closed and most people are off on their holidays or visiting relatives (preferably in the southernmost part of the country). The city stays dormant all through the summer months, and those who do not leave stay out in the parks or sip iced coffees at street cafés. Being two young women in our best years, we however have other plans. How long does that tan last anyway?
After yet another successful field season conducted by the Spitsbergen Jurassic Research Group, the Geological Museum, part of the Natural History Museum of Oslo, now has about 37 more or less complete specimens. It is beginning to get crowded in the basement. Jørn therefore has asked us to join May-Liss Funke, the full-time hard working research technician, to form a formidable triforce. The Troglofauna Summer Team of 2013.
Surely, after years and years of digging, it would be nice to shed some light on what really happened to the marine reptiles found on Svalbard. After all that work, are they just going to sit in the plaster jackets we encased them in, to dust and rust away? Fear not, for this Jurassic adventure in fossil preparation will continue for several years to come (ten, by our calculations).
In writing throughout this summer, we hope to give you insight into the process of not only finding and excavating a fossil, but what follows as well: the yearlong drying followed by opening of jackets and the painstaking hours of careful preparation and love before they are eventually described (that is, placed into the right species, or possibly named as a new one). Hopefully one day in a not so distant future, they will be displayed here at the Natural History Museum of Oslo.
Introducing the Cave Dwellers
We are two young and fun-loving students, with a passion for paleontology. Paleontology is the study of all prehistoric life. Aubrey just finished her master’s degree in Biology on the project, describing a new Svalbard ichthyosaur, and is starting on a PhD on Svalbard plesiosaurs. Victoria is completing an undergrad in Geology, and should start her master’s degree with Jørn next year. Having two different aspects of paleontology, we are a great team in the field and in the lab. On Svalbard we were known as “Double Trouble,” “Chip ‘n’ Dale” or “Radio Wiman” (the mountain), as we never stopped talking/singing/dancing.
So, Jørn Hurum being a slightly experimental scientist has decided to lock us down in the basement for the summer along with a lot of dead reptiles. For the past two years, we have helped May-Liss with the preparation of the marine reptiles, but this year we got the opportunity to work full-time the entire summer. The best summer job in the world, as far as we are concerned.
We will continue posting about our work throughout the summer, so there will be more on the magnificent marine reptiles from Svalbard soon.