Changing Planet

The End of a Triassic Adventure

It is the end of the expedition, and what have we achieved? Well, after searching a completely new area, we have found several sites for excavation next year and brought back 400 kilograms of bones picked up from the surface. All in all, this year’s expedition was a great success.

By Aubrey Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash

We have unlocked the secrets of the stratigraphy of the Triassic in Flowerdalen. An accomplishment, to which we owe the “ammonites” thanks (well, they are actually a different group called ceratites). Ammonites and similar groups are often used to date layers of rock, as they evolved so quickly. Sometimes, it is possible to know which ammonite is present at a set time down to an accuracy of only a couple of hundred-thousand years. It is the paleontological answer to carbon dating (which only stretches its accuracy back some 50,000 years).

ammonite
An ammonite. (Photo by Stig Larsen)

We have found an entire ecosystem waiting to be investigated and described; sharks, fish, shells, snails, cephalopods, amphibians, ichthyosaurs and other “we-are-not-quite-sure-what-they-are” reptiles. This will require several years, especially as we have to finish off our work on the Jurassic and on the dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous on Svalbard. And an exciting next few years it will be!

A bag of bones, picked from the surface. Photo courtesy of Jørn Hurum
A bag of bones, picked from the surface. (Photo by Jørn Hurum)

The only downside of this year’s expedition was that there was no clear presence of plesiosaurian ancestors that we know of (and maybe being distracted by nearby polar bears did not help.) We will have to thoroughly check through all of the collected material, as there are some fossils that we can’t identify. This is true for much of paleontology; you have to try and fail or succeed. Learning by doing is the best way to go.

Video courtesy of Aubrey Roberts.

Well, now we have packed our camp and followed the footsteps of the Swedish explorer Nordenskjold, who found the first marine reptiles on Svalbard. Our time in the Arctic is over for this year, although we can happily proclaim that the team will return next year to excavate the located specimens!

Part of the group on Marmiertoppen, waiting for the next season on spectacular Svalbard. (Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash)

Read More By Jørn Hurum and His Associates

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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