Thursday, November 19, 2009

Doing it the old fashioned way

I'm just going to keep rolling with the recent burst of dino-history subjects. This time, we'll look at a modern attempt to get back to the way paleontology was done in the old days...

The AMNH Scow MARY JANE, 1912

Between 1910 and 1914, after his great successes in the badlands of Montana, paleontologist Barnum Brown led an AMNH team on a series of expeditions into Alberta via the Red Deer River. A Canadian team led by Charles Sternberg also took to the river, engaging in a friendly rivalry with the Americans. Their mode of transportation was a kind of flat-bottomed boat called a scow. It was a very sensible way to search for new fossils in the days before paved roads. The river which made transport so easy also eroded away outcrops of rock, exposing fossils that had been buried for 65 million years or more. One of Barnum Brown's great discoveries during these expeditions was the tyrannosaur Albertasaurus, which thrilled me on my trips to the Field Museum pre-Sue.

A senior fossil preparation technician for the Royal Tyrrell Museum named Darren Tanke plans on commemorating the centennial of the first of these scow expeditions by embarking on one of his own. Since August, his team has maintained a blog to chronicle the project's progress. As if you needed more proof of Tanke's devotion to and knowledge of paleontological history, the scow is to be named in honor of Peter C. Kaisen, a technician on those early expeditions whose work in preserving valuable new fossils was crucial to the trips' mission - though naturally he's been overshadowed by the huge figure of Brown.

The Dinosaur Hunting By Boat 2010 Facebook page goes into greater detail about the project. It looks like they intend to stay as faithful as possible to the technology of a century ago; this isn't going to be a cushy leisure cruise. As the FB page says, "Food will be preserved with ice (or canned/pickled/dried), cooking done on an antique wood burning stove, coal lanterns for light, etc. The replica scow will be a floating museum as it will be fully equipped with period antiques or modern replicas of same." The team's boat will be modeled after the Mary Jane, pictured above.

I'm just super-impressed with this undertaking. Amazing.

ALSO: In case you haven't had enough giant-crocodiles-attacking-giant-theropods action, Dave Hone has featured a nice painting by paleoartist Bob Nicholls in this post.

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