August 12, 2012
I am just speechless. This is the craziest, most fortuitous, most amazing field trip. WOW.
Fossils. Tons of fossils. Ammonites, sponges, bivalves – everything a girl could want, if she lived in the earliest Jurassic ocean. WOW.
And my team. My team! Spectatular geologists. Really amazing. Even the drivers, curious, hard working, eager to join in, made important finds. Really amazing.
First I asked the geologists what they wanted to do for the day. They said, of course, to help me. This is amazing because Dave and I thought, look, this mining company is sending “an assistant” with us to keep an eye on us. That’s handy, so we don’t get in trouble with the police or locals or anybody. But instead we got two professional exploration geologists, and their driver who is super helpful but I don’t know his official vocation. I don’t know if the head geologist assigned the second geologist with us or if he asked. Either way, it’s spectacular.
In the morning, I spent the better part of an hour explaining my plan and answering questions. First, I gave them printed explanations of my sequence of rocks in Nevada, then took them on a photo tour of my site’s best sponge fossils on my laptop. After that, I showed them photos of microscope slides – both of my Nevada sponges and from Dra. Rosas’ slides from the rocks on which we sat. then I laid out my plan for how we could all explore the rocks, and what specific priorities to look for. I did this entirely in Spanish, asking for words by description in Spanish and with a couple written down in my notes. It was exhilarating,
More exhilarating was the fact that they TOTALLY understood what the hell I was saying. I don’t mean just the words – and Julio, who speaks some English, helped to explain concepts for me. Even when I speak in Spanish, and I think in Spanish, I have English ways of constructing sentences and thoughts. Anyway, they didn’t understand just the gist or just what to look for. They totally get why I’m here. They get that this mass extinction completely changed the world, and the changes explain these totally frustrating wierdnesses about their valuable rocks. And they totally want to help, to discover for themselves the answers, and to learn how to see and interpret fossils and sediments.
At lunch, we sat by the river. Everyone brought too much food but it was delicious. After lunch we compared notes on our findings. Wow! Three teams, working totally independently, ended up observing almost the exact same package of rocks, and reported very similar findings. A few pseudofossils, but I was able to explain these well enough without letting anybody down too hard.
After lunch I walked through each of their findings. Incredible. I showed them which parts are valuable, and which are not related to life 200,000,000 years ago. There’s a lot in a rock that didn’t happen then. And I think they saw more of how I prioritize and sort fossils and sediments of importance.
When we were done, we decided to explore more, with the last hour of the day. We went to the roadside to look for ammonoids. Again, we split up, and again we found the same stuff. But bringing together these different observations, comparing them, seeing how the rocks connect – I mean PHYSICALLY connect – this is amazing. This is worth a dozen days in the field. More.
It take SO MUCH TIME to go through rocks, to learn what’s important, to decide where to search. Even though I know what we’re looking for, here’s an example. I had a lousy morning. I was on one side of the creek and ruins, and my rocks were ok but a bit busted and too much caked on dirty caliche to see much. If I were alone here, I’d be discouraged after that. I would take another look across the creek, see some of the observations these guys made – but we had six people pouring all over these rocks today. The synthesis makes those six observations WAY more than the sum of their parts. We became a team of people, each with the experience of six people. It sounds silly but knowledge is like this. It’s fractal.
So at the end of the day we found the most unexpected jackpot. I came here looking for sponges. We found those yesterday. Then I wanted a model for how the sponges lived in their environment and the changes in it – we got that during the morning and afternoon. Then, in the very last hour of the day, we got this surprise bonus. Ammonites. Ammonites tell you what was swimming or drifting in the water above the seafloor. They also tell you time. Ammonites come and go. They evolve fast, spread around the world, and go extinct quickly too. With ammonites, we can zero in on where in time our sponges are, our environments are – all of it. Dra. Rosas will be so thrilled. During her dissertation she found maybe two in this particular rock unit. Other visiting scientists she speaks of found one, another a handful. Today, in the last hour, we got a dozen. And of course more fossils between the ammonites to help us learn more. Totally incredible.
Tomorrow: measurements, collections, observations. What an incedible blessing.to find such work. Julio asked me if I was going to see Cuzco, and when I said no, he asked don’t I ever go on vacation. Now, when he and I are walking sheep trails between fossils on these steep mountainsides, I point to the river and views and say, “Vacaciones!” and he laughs.