Field-based Research

The Applied Palaeontology Research Group has several active field projects around the globe, yielding important data and samples for the study of ancient life.

The Group has undertaken paleontological expeditions to China (Liaoning, Zhucheng), South America (Patagonia), Europe (Spain, Germany, and UK), Cayman Islands (Cayman Brac caves), Australia (Tasmania) and North America (Montana, North and South Dakota). The group has recently focussed upon field/research collaborations that include the American Museum of Natural History (New York), where we place the dinosaur and associated vertebrate remains collected from our Hell Creek Project (South Dakota) and St Matthews University (Grand Cayman).

Hell Creek Formation (USA)
LiDAR scanning in Montana (Hell Creek Formation) using a Z+F Imager to record the 3D geometry of a recently discovered T. rex skull.
LiDAR scanning in Montana (Hell Creek Formation) using a Z+F Imager to record the 3D geometry of a recently discovered T. rex skull.

A 67 million year old time-capsule from the Late Cretaceous was discovered in the summer of 2009 in the Badlands of South Dakota by a team from the University of Manchester (UK). The Hell Creek Formation is the slice of time containing the fossil remains of the last moments of the dinosaurs. A large number of animals all came to rest in a discrete deposit, most likely a crevasse splay. The Late Cretaceous site would have been a scene of twisted limbs and stacked carcasses of herbivorous dinosaurs and were clearly a beacon to predators and scavengers, as their teeth litter the site today. The 'bone-bed' mainly consist of the fossil remains of ceratospian dinosaur. As to the species present we need to complete the excavations to confirm. The predators are represented from the tiny needle-like teeth of Troodon to the vast banana-sized steak knives of Tyrannosaurus rex (T. rex).

The site is also yielding vertebrate (dinosaur, bird, mammal, fish, crocodilian and turtle), invertebrate (arthropod cuticle, arthropod feeding traces, etc.) and a diverse flora (including seeds, leaves and amber). However, it is the presence of large quantities of ceratopsian bones in a single sedimentary unit that defines this site. All material excavated from this site is being deposited at the American Museum of Natural History (New York).

Cayman Brac Cave Taphonomy
Cayman Brac Cave, Cayman Islands

The submarine ridge that supports the Cayman Islands defines its geology, topography, as well as contributing to the rich environment composed of an extraordinary diverse flora and fauna. The carbonate shelf that fringes the islands is responsible for the prolific coral reef communities while the lagoons and mangrove swamps inland support a vibrant terrestrial community. A recent fieldtrip (Oct 2013) to one of the Cayman Islands (Cayman Brac) resulted in the discovery of a new cave system yielding rare vertebrate remains (including ~100,000 year old mammal, bird and reptile remains) from an environment that is typically not associated with exceptional preservation (i.e. Tropics). My team and I have continued to explore the cave in May 2013. Our fieldwork includes sites on the Cayman Islands (Cayman Brac) that have resulted in the discovery of several new cave systems, yielding rare vertebrate remains from an environment that are typically not associated with exceptional preservation (i.e. Tropics). The field team consisted Dr. Phil Manning (SEAES), Dr. Victoria Egerton (SEAES), Dr. William Sellers (FLS), Prof. Andrew Chamberlain (FLS) and Dr. Mike Buckley (FLS). The University of Manchester provided initial funding to allow the team to further explore, map and sample the pristine cave deposits using the unique Manchester applied palaeontology approach. The analysis of the samples collected has focussed on a combination of non-destructive imaging techniques to help resolve the biological control on the distribution of endogenous organic components within the fossilized tissues. The preliminary analysis of the fossils aimed to diagnose if the organic compounds present in fossils collected were likely derived from original proteins present. A recently acquired Z+F LiDAR unit allowed the team to map samples within a 3-Dimensional (3D) framework for the very first time. The cave deposits on Cayman Brac were ideal to study using this new approach, given the constrained environment of a cave and the pristine nature of the sites. The team were able to sample and then contextually map the chemistry and preservation of bone samples relative to their position in each cave system. We are now exploring the chemistry and biochemistry of the collected samples so that we might further constrain the taphonomic controls on preservation.

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