Day 1: Saturday, February 5, 2022

My first day on the dig! I had no idea what to expect. I arrived in the morning, it was so cold, I was glad to have as many layers as I did. I was given my instructions, gathered my tools, and was told to pick a square. The pressure! How could I possibly choose one? What if it wasn’t a good one? Perhaps sensing my internal (and external) dilemma, the volunteer coordinator, Cindy, directed me to a square. I began working, slowly, methodically, every stroke of the screwdriver oh-so-deliberate. I was ready for a big discovery! After an hour, I looked up and realized that everyone else had moved waaaay more dirt than I had. I had yet to fill my first bucket! How could they be so fast?? Time to get serious! At this point, I was getting a feel for the movements and how to keep my square neat and tidy. By the time lunch rolled around, I had become more efficient, but I still hadn’t found anything. I was so focused, however, that I didn’t really notice it was lunch time and worked right through it. Before I knew it, it was time to start cleaning up. I couldn’t believe it! 6 hours and I hadn’t found a single fossil…BUT, my one meter square was beautifully defined and perfectly level, so I consider that a job well done. In the squares around me, the TA for the class found a gomphothere (four tusked relative of the elephant) patella, and in the same square after the TA left someone else found what looked to be the jaw of a very young gomphothere. So while I didn’t find anything, of note or otherwise, there were significant items found that day.

Day 2: Saturday, February 12, 2022

This time, I was ready. I was going to be a big more deliberate with my digging! This week I was on the opposite side of the pond from where I worked previously. I noticed, later, that when it was someone’s first dig, they usually did not move as much dirt as a seasoned volunteer did. Everything looks like a fossil! Hard clay feels like bone, and soft bone is hard to distinguish from more firm clay. It was warmer today than it was last time, but still a beautiful day and not so desperately hot was I knew it would get later in the season. Although I did bring sunscreen, I did not apply it to the back of my hands, and they were burnt! I definitely will remember to apply it more thoroughly in the future. Despite this, I got off to a good start and actually found some fossils this time! A clavicle from a turtle, I believe, and several fragments of turtle shells. There were fragments of some smaller bones, and a few vertebrae of what were most likely fish. The square I was working in had a large, partially exposed turtle shell; I mostly focused on bringing the rest of the square down to the same level as the substrate around the shell. Beyond that, we also saw a little snake in the pond in the middle of the dig site.

Day 3: Saturday, March 19, 2022

It rained in the days preceding this week’s dig, and we spent some time carefully scraping the sticky, sticky clay off of the surface to reveal the nice sand underneath. I was back on the far side of the little pond again. Anything found in the clay sediment was largely disregarded, as it could have been swept from anywhere in the dig, and data-wise it did not actually reflect the quadrant that it was found in, nor the sediment layer. Despite going over a month since my last dig, I quickly found my rhythm. The focus of the day was the large limb bone of…something…that I uncovered, and I worked to carefully (futilely) extract it. It was very difficult as it was poorly preserved and very, very delicate. Beyond that, I did not find very much; a few fragments of turtle shell, some small pieces of an unknown bone.

Day 4: Sunday, April 3, 2022

This was an exciting day! The museum was doing a livestream of the dig site. Like the previous time I was at the site, it rained in the days preceding my visit and we ended up having to bail out the deeper excavations. This was quite laborious and the 90 minutes I spent toting buckets of water, dumping them (showing the others that we could just lay them on their sides and they dumped themselves, without much effort from us…)

Day 5: Monday, April 11, 2022: Museum Day

Today was my first day volunteering in the Fantastic Fossils exhibit with the Florida Museum of Natural History. It was exciting! I didn’t know what to expect because when I signed up, I did not sign up for a particular task, as I really didn’t have much of a preference as to what I would be doing. It was a Monday afternoon, and there weren’t very many visitors to the exhibit, but there were enough that I got to hear the spiel of the volunteer who was working on unearthing the giant rhino jaw from its plaster jacket several times. His work was much more exciting than mine; I was set up looking through the bags of sediment that were left over from multiple screen washes. I was given a box of tiny fragments, and I spread out a layer on the petri dish. Then I went through and picked out any bones, teeth, fish scales, and ray dentition. Items such as the hardened interior molds of shells, and the outer layer of an urchin (shown below) I was told were not needed, as the museum had many such fossil examples already. They were fascinating to look at, however. I used a pair of very fine forceps to remove the fragments and set them aside in a little vial for someone else to go over for identification. In a way, it was nice that I didn’t have to talk to any visitors- as much as I would have loved to share what I was doing, no interruptions meant that I could really focus on the task at hand! I can’t say that I really made much of a dent in the amount to still be picked through, but I had fun doing it!

Day 6: Monday, April 18, 2022: Museum Day

My second shift volunteering at the museum! I got there and found out that the man in charge had been called to Montbrook to help with an exciting new find (I didn’t find out what it was, either!) and so by default I went and did the same thing I did before. I worked for the first half hour with another volunteer, and then when she left I worked alone. Again, did I make much of a difference in the amount to still be sifted through? Not really, but I did find a few cool things! One was a nearly perfect, tiny shark tooth, a few vertebrae, some fish spines, and something that looked barbed. The microscope I was working with this time had superior magnification than the one I worked with the week before, and it was amazing to see the difference in what I was picking up under the lens versus what it looked like when I put it in the jar…they were so tiny! If I had dropped on into carpet, I would have never found it!