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A bit of 'fossil' humor ...


The StarPhoenix

Herschel dig pieces together image of dino era

Bob Florence, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Monday, December 03, 2007

There is gold in them there hills at Herschel, northwest of Rosetown.
At a dig site just outside the village they've found shark teeth and fish
bones and the fossil remains of a freaky marine beast that ran some 40 feet
long, with four paddles for limbs and a head as big as a fridge. 

A mosasaur, the reptile is called. A supersized Cuisinart food processor is
more like it. With teeth the size of lug nuts, it was built to slice and
dice, to chop and grind. From what scientists gather, mosasaurs had a taste
for squid and turtles, but they probably ate whatever came along, young fry
mosasaurs included.

"Well, you wouldn't want to go skinny-dipping with one of them around," said
Tim Tokaryk, a paleontologist and senior technician with the Royal
Saskatchewan Museum.
Tokaryk worked at the Herschel site for the better part of a month in
August, approaching each day with a sense of discovery, never knowing what
was going to turn up next. Within a few feet of digging into a sand and
mudstone hill, he and his team of Mike Benoit, Wes Long, Melanie Vovchuk and
Emersen Ziffle had gone back 70 million years, returning to what the geology
timeline calls the late Cretaceous period.

What is Herschel now was coastline then. Seventy million years ago there was
a seaway running the length and through the middle of what became North
America. Saskatchewan was where the mosasaur roamed and the plesiosaur
played. Plesiosaurs were serpent-like animals, distinguished by both long-
and short-neck varieties. Plesiosaur parts have also been uncovered in the
Herschel bone bed, a deposit that has chunks and bits of many things, like a
candy nougat bar.

"One of the theories is that this area was a tidal pool," said Dave Neufeld,
a resident of Herschel. "It's intriguing to think how the area has changed
from ages past, going from a salt sea with tides to what is now semi-arid
prairie, the ground covered with prickly pear cactus.

"Historically, scientifically, I find it really fascinating."

That's virgin prairie around Herschel, located in the Eagle Creek Valley.
With the soil heavy in alkali and the land following a sharp slope down into
a ravine, farmland it's not. Fertile for fossils it is.

Tokaryk had been doing digs in the region off and on since the early 1990s,
with scattered results. When Neufeld found seven vertebra from a plesiosaur
while he was out for a walk one spring, the rush was on.

For the last three summers Tokaryk and the crew from the Royal Saskatchewan
Museum loaded up their shovels and picks and have gone hunting around


Consider Scotty, the Tyrannosaurus rex that Tokaryk unearthed in Eastend in
1994. Thirteen years after being discovered, the piecing together of Scotty
is a work in progress.

"The rock surrounding some of that bone is harder than cement," Tokaryk
said. "In the lab we use an air scribe -- essentially a mini jack hammer;
about the size of a large pencil -- and work under a microscope, removing
grains of sand. I don't know how many scribes we've gone through (on

>From the Herschel site, Tokaryk said they've collected about 1,600 bones in
the course of the last three summers

"That material is going to take us several years to process, but the end
product is we're going to get a more fleshed out image," Tokaryk said.
"Right now the Kodak image from 75 million years ago is a very limited
photograph; with this it becomes three-dimensional."

Picture Herschel 75 million years ago. Imagine how it would have looked

"I see a low lying water system and a shore lined with horned and
duck-billed dinosaurs," Tokaryk said. "I see a river flowing into the sea. I
see scavengers feeding in the water; multiple species of shark and fish."

Neufeld can see it, too.

"I wouldn't want to be there," Neufeld said. "Some of those things would
make a quick meal out of me."

Neufeld prefers Herschel now, with elements of then. In summer, he likes to
go watch Tokaryk and the team at work in the bone bed, seeing what turns up.
He enjoys going for walks in the valley.

"Sometimes I'll get down on my hands and knees and scrape away a bit of
dirt," Neufeld said. "It's one of those 'wow' experiences. You never know
what you might discover."

Maybe gold.


© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

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