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Rookies Day, Inverloch 2016

On Sunday 20th November 2016 the prospective volunteers for the Eric the Red West 2017 field trip were invited to a one day dig at the Flat Rocks site, near Inverloch. 21 enthusiastic new volunteers turned up at The Caves carpark ready for a fun day and an equal number of experienced crew also turned up to help mentor them.

The weather was perfect; warm and sunny with a sea breeze. After a safety talk in the car park, the rookies were led down to the dig site and given a short history of the work that went on there over a 22 year period. The sand was pretty high above the fossil layer, so it was decided not to spend time removing the sand but to break up a large fossiliferous boulder that had fallen away from the cliff face a couple of years earlier. We also had a number of buckets of rock from a previous field season that had not been processed. So there was plenty of rock for the volunteers to choose from.

Each rookie was assigned to an experienced crew member, who showed them numerous samples of what fossil bone looks like in the rock. We call these samples our "practice rocks". There is an assortment of marked bones - cross-sections of bones in hand samples that have been ringed with a coloured texta. Each volunteer must use a X10 hand lens to examine the bone texture. Some of the examples are quite small as volunteers have to be able to recognise something as tiny as a mammal jaw (less than 2cm long with teeth the size of pinheads). Once they felt comfortable that they could recognise the bone structure, they were then given a selection of rocks containing fossil bones that were unmarked and they had to identify the bones using the skills they had just learned. This was the real test and I am happy to say that all the new volunteers passed this test with flying colours.

Once the experienced crew member was satisfied that their assigned rookie could identify fossil bone, they then demonstrated how to break the rock, using a mallet and chisel. The rock is a sandstone/mudstone conglomerate and is quite hard, so it does take a bit of force to break it, but by following the layers in the rock it can be done quite easily without shattering the rock and bones. The results of the day were quite a number of happy bone finders (see individual happy faces on our blog.

Out of the dozen or so bones that were discovered that day, the "bone of the day" award went to Eve Eidelson (experienced crew member) who found a partial small ornithopod dinosaur femur (thigh bone). There were a number of interesting bones that will hopefully reveal their identities once they are prepared. Some of the discoveries were not fossil bones, but fossil invertebrates - the well preserved impressions of fresh water molluscs, previously identified as Megalovirgus.

Normally, we rely on natural attrition to prune the volunteer numbers - there are always a few volunteers who, having experienced the one day field trip, decide that it is not really for them. This year all the rookies were keen to experience more, so Wendy and I had to try to squeeze them all into the ETRW 2017 crew roster. It wasn't easy and some volunteers had to swap weeks to avoid missing out but we got them all in, filling the maximum number of 30 volunteers each week. The Eric the Red 2017 field trip commences on Saturday 4th February and will run for three weeks, finishing on Saturday 25th February. I will post weekly updates of what was found during the dig, so stay tuned.

Lesley Kool

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1. Rookies Day 2016 volunteers, old and new.
Photographer: Wendy White

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2. A lovely day to sit and break rock by the sea.
Photographer: Wendy White

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3. Experienced crew member Corrie (right) with rookies Sharon and Claire.
Photographer: Wendy White

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4. Eve Eidelson holding the ornithopod femur she found.
Photographer: Wendy White

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5. Eve's partial ornithopod femur, identified by the fourth trochanter (brown triangle of bone in centre rock).
Photographer: Lesley Kool

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6. Megalovirgus - Freshwater mollusc.
Photographer Lesley Kool