INTERPRETING FIELD DATA A DECADE LATER: AN UNDERGRADUATE’S UNEXPECTED LESSON
From 1976 until 1990, field crews from the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) conducted quarry operations in the Morrison Formation in Johnson County, Wyoming. The original purpose was to acquire crocodilian material from the Jurassic Period. Quarrying yielded over 1,000 dinosaur skeletal elements, but only 2 crocodile scutes. At the time there was little interest in the dinosaur material, but due to the quality and degree of articulation of some elements, portions of this material were incorporated into the museums display of Diplodocus and Camptosaurus. In the ensuing years preparation of the dinosaur material continued sporadically, but minimal research was conducted.
Because a quarry map had been produced and field notes were available, the collection was recently made available for an undergraduate research project on the taphonomy of the quarry. Unfortunately, problems with the study were encountered. The long period of excavation, with constantly changing field crews, resulted in records that were not rigorously maintained. Position and orientation of the bones in the quarry were not always accurately documented and details regarding strike and dip of bedding and depth of burial, were missing or incomplete. Can these data be interpreted a decade later? With regards to a complete taphonomic study, the answer is no! Were the students efforts wasted and is the collection of no value? Again, the answer is no. Data, based on the actual bones, can, and has been, interpreted and published. Certainly the experience of working with actual dinosaur bones has been exciting, but possibly the most valuable lesson gained from this research experience has been the importance of maintaining accurate and consistent field notes. Although careful documentation is tedious, meticulous field notes should be viewed as an investment which can yield valuable dividends in the future.