Connor and I went on a little excursion today...we joined 15-20 other kids for a dinosaur dig in Bladensburg, MD. OK, so dig is a bit misleading as you don't actually dig. We found out that paleontology is not as fascinating as they make it look on television. You're not actually digging as much as you are walking around observing what is on the surface and if you find something protruding then you dig just around the object to determine what it is and only go as far as the object goes.
But we learned SOOO much about fossil finding. We learned about the difference in dirt and whether you can find prints or actual objects (teeth, bones, wood, etc). We first hit an area where prints have been found...we weren't warned beforehand that we'd need to be master climbers to accomplish this feat. So being 7 months pregnant was not favorable in these conditions. You can see from this image the steep slope we were working on, Connor was not hindered by the slope, but I only ventured about half-way up.
Here's Connor with his bag full of fossils.
This red dirt is where you'll find prints, not objects. The soil has been exposed to air which is why it presents rust colored and the rocks are called iron stone. Any fossil matter that was trapped in these layers would not have been preserved as objects due to the air exposure, however air does not effect a footprint, which is why this is where we were looking for prints. Connor's convinced he found a print of a baby duckbill platypus...we really found nothing more than some really cool iron stones sans prints.
We then moved to another site where we could search for actual objects.
We saw the dirt changing from red to grayish-black. This indicated the soil was once covered in water which kept the fossil matter from being exposed to air and therefore would become intact fossilized objects. We learned that bone takes on the coloring of the soil it's in so the bones or teeth that were to be found where we were looking would have been black, not white like we'd expect. We also learned that teeth are always shiny (not sparkly, but reflective as if they've been polished). If you find something resembling a tooth, it should have a shiny, reflective coating, like enamel I guess, if it's not reflective it's probably not a tooth, but probably a rock that has a tooth shape.
At this new site we did not find dinosaur parts, either...we did find lignite, a form of coal, petrified wood and plant fossils. We expected to see leaves like we have today on most of our trees, but learned that flowering plants did not exist 100 million years ago, which was the age of the site we were exploring. Instead of broad leaves they were more like pine needles. We found quite a lot of plant fossils in this particular area.
So we did not feel like we had truly gone on a dinosaur dig as we didn't find anything related to a dinosaur and we didn't dig. However, we learned where and how to look for fossils, which is knowledge we'll be able to apply for the rest of our lives!
By the end of the day, I was hobbling along like a senior with arthritis in my back and Connor was bouncing around saying, "But you said this would be an all-day event!" We were gone for over 6 hours, that's all day to me...especially when I missed my daily nap.