31.12.08

a complex story (origins part 2)

(Production Note: Much of the content of this post is fictional, and not actually research Darren Tanke is engaging in. Please take this made up stuff in the spirit it is meant (and not harass or blame Mr. Tanke over OUR artistic license). We will be covering Darren's real research (which the fiction in this post is an exaggeration of) very shortly in the continuation of this storyline. Prehistoric Insanity)

with no obvious point behind the present that has returned me home, i've decided to create a purpose for the trip.

while i currently have access to one of the world's greatest palaeontologic institutions, i'm going to find out everything i can about how my egg was found and hatched.

now, there's a lot of details one can look into about any specific fossil...

  • where was it found?

  • who found it?

  • how did they find it?

  • how long until it was dug up?

  • who was on the field team that did the digging?

  • how long did the dig take?

  • how long till the fossil was prepared (that's a fancy word for cleaned off)?

  • who did the preparing?

  • who studied the fossil?
etc.

and this is only when you don't have a personal stake or connection to the fossil... which in this case i think i would have!

if there was one man at the museum who could help me with these questions, it was technician extraordinaire darren tanke. who thought i was just popping by his nook in the preparation lab to say hi... boy was he in for a surprise. i had like a million questions for him!

after the necessary catch up (like everyone darren was very interested to hear about my new zealand adventures... in particular my encounters with professor paradigm for some reason) i tried to present my current quest in a rational manner... which sadly with my brain capacity, and how excited i was to maybe get some answers wasn't so rational, but darren being the really clever guy he is figured out what i wanted to ask him.

now for those of you who haven't heard of darren tanke, well how to put it? as far as dinosaurs and palaeontology are concerned he is kinda a big deal!

darren started working at the tyrrell musuem a couple years before there technical WAS a museum (the alberta government had decided it was starting it up, but assembled the staff before the building was completed), and is now the longest serving staff member at the museum!

though he technically isn't a true palaeontologist (in that he never got a PHD) i think saying this, even though it is a fact, is kinda insulting. darren publishes more papers and articles a year than 2 or 3 of your average palaeontologists combined! he is an expert on ceratopsians, dinosaur pathology (that's fancy wording for dino injuries and illness), and the history of alberta's palaeontology. on top of that he is among the best of the best when it comes to digging up and/or preparing fossils.
_
it was darren's expertise in the history of alberta's fossil hunting in particular that i thought would help me the most at moment though. darren has made it his mission to try and track down every scientific dig site located in alberta. it helps that he has been on like half of them (well not really, but a lot). however making the job harder for him is that most of the early fossil hunters in the province didn't really record where they dug beyond vague references of general regions.
_
to solve this darren has become a quarry hunter. using clues such as pictures taken of these old digs, garbage left behind, and their old camp sites darren has been tracking down 5-10 of these old dig sites a year. along the way he has become an expert on not only who was working in alberta, but what has been dug up as well!
_
before talking to darren and having him fill in many of the gaps in the story, here is what i knew about my own discovery...

back sometime in the 1946 my mother (pictured here) was found by someone near the town of huxley alberta (about an hour north of drumheller). however due to the extreme nature of the site mommy was found at, they couldn't excavate (that's fancy wording for dug up) her at the time. so she was just left there. it wasn't till the early 80's when the tyrrell museum started active field expeditions that she was finally dug up. a team under the legendary phil currie (including darren!) finally rescued her from millions of years burial...
_
however this is only part of the story. afterall i'm not my mom. she was cleaned off and put up in the museum a good decade before i too was unearthed...
_
i know that my legal guardian craig discovered me by going back to my mom's site, and found my egg just below where she'd been taken out. the thing is though, that's about all i know...
_
i have reason to believe it is a way more interesting story though. my main clue is this old photo. it is labelled as being taken the day before i was found. you'll note not only is craig in the photo, but also my JERK! of a cousin, larry... what larry is doing there i have no clue...
_
this was the key part of the story i was very keen to learn. which i was hoping darren could help me with.
_
"the huxley site," darren seemed off put when i asked him. not by me mind you, rather the site i asked for. "it's just been a while since i actively looked into that one. it's not your normal site that one... just let me get my files on it."
_
darren went to work on his puter, and next thing you know i had all sorts of other facts to flesh out the story of my discovery.
_
to start off with in the museum's records, me and my mom are not known by our names. rather we have special collection numbers assigned to us. these as so that the museum can keep track of us in their huge collections, and scientists can refer to us specially and everyone will know what they mean (though why our names don't work for this purpose i'm not sure??).
_
my mom is TMP 81. 12. 1. which doesn't make a lot of sense if you don't know the tyrrell's numbering system. all museums have different cataloguing systems, but they usually involve numbers.
_
in the tyrrell's case these numbers mean something. TMP stands for tyrrell museum of palaeontology (the museum hadn't gotten the royal retitle when they started their collections so hence the lack of an R on the front). the 81 means mom was dug up in 1981, and this way you know when anything at the museum was dug up immediately. the 12 indicates that huxley was the 12th location the museum dug at, as the museum gives their fossil sites numbers to help keep track of where fossils are found. finally the 1 means mom was the first fossil found at the site.
_
i already knew this, but for you on the innerweb my number is TMP-2003. 12. 7. see if you can figure out what that means?
_
the right answer is i was found in 2003, august. 16 to be precise (my hatching day!) though the number won't tell you that. i was found at the 12th quarry in alberta aka. huxley, and i was the 7th specimen extracted (i was egg 6 out of 10... so as mom was number one, the last of those eggs in the nest was TMP- 2003. 12. 11).
_
next i got all sorts of facts about how mom was dug up. she was fossilized in the layer just below the KT boundary itself!... meaning both of us were literally among the last of the tyrannosaurs ever!...
fun fact this spot in huxley is one of the ONLY sites in all of alberta where the KT boundary is exposed! so it was really lucky we were buried there and not somewhere else...
_
(Production Note: Photo from Royal Tyrrell Museum Finders: A Century of Fossil Hunting in Alberta)
_
in the present, she was exposed halfway up a sheer cliff, and was only noticed due to some broken off chunks that had tumbled to the bottom through erosion. the height and steepness of this cliff proved too much for the limited field crew of mom's discoverer charles mortram sternberg, and she had to be left where they found her.
fortunately she was encased in solid ironstone so erosion was considerable slowed down, meaning mom could be left for quite sometime without too much worry of lose or damage to her skeleton. sternberg recorded this find, and hoped someone would return when the resources and manpower were available.
_
sadly this didn't happen till nearly 45 years later, when in 1981 phil currie of the tyrrell noted the find in sternberg's notes and organized a sizeable dig team. it was an ordeal, as the crew had to dig from the top of the cliff down nearly 30 metres to her skeleton (all this cliff material being called over burden as it was over top of the fossil in question and naturally a burden to remove!).
_
with this rather deep quarry there was constant danger of the cliff collapsing on the dig team, and with the majority of her body safely removed dr. currie reluctantly had to leave mom's head in the side of the hill. his worries proved correct as a few years later the quarry did slump, and had anyone been digging there they'd have been buried along with my mom's head!
_
poor mom though. i don't know what i'd do without my head. fortunately they were able to lend her a cast skull of another t-rex from montana!
_
this ended the clear part of the story, and the transition into the weirder part was marked by darren drawing out an annoyed "right," i looked at him puzzled. he turned to me with a slightly serious face. "remember how i said there were some weird things about huxley? that's because they tie into the commission."
_
"the what?" i asked.
_
"the dominion's palaeontologic commission," darren stated. than he threw a glance to the door, as though to make sure no one was listening in. "the precursor to palaeo central."
_
"you know about palaeo central?!?" i almost yelled in excitement.
_
darren shushed me with his finger. "no i don't know about them," he stated in a rather formal manner. he once again looked to the door, than satisfied no one was listening whispered. "no one knows about them. they officially don't exist, but if you've been working in palaeontology as long as me their activities become pretty obvious."
_
man did i have a ton of questions for darren now, but he refused to answer any of them. "look traumador, i understand if you just learned about them you'll want to know all about the, but trust me you don't really. the more you know the more you could risk compromising them and their operations. the palaeo central initiative is the only sure line of defense fossils have at the moment."
_
despite this slightly downer of a warning, darren winked at me "at the same time you can start to figure out some things about them, the same way i did," darren offered, and reached into one of his filing cabinets.

"i can even give you these without arising too much suspicion," darren assured himself. "as these documents pertain to your discovery."
_
which brought us back on tangent with why i was here. only now it had a hint of super spy excitement. what did my discovery have to do with palaeo central?
_
well it turns out it wasn't a direct link, and didn't have to do with palaeo central of professor paradigm really at all.
rather these documents came from way back in the early days of alberta palaeontology. the 1910's to be exact.
_
that was the time of great fossil hunters seriously prospecting and collecting in the badlands of alberta for fossils (though not the first time, it was just the first big effort to do so). in an era known as the great canadian dinosaur rush. back than teams from new york and ottawa competed (in a friendly manner mind you) to find and collect dinosaurs from the red deer river valley. as the rush is a big topic, my next post will be on it so i can stay on subject here. so stay tuned.
_
that's the general story though. two crews working the badlands, and finding lots of canadian dinosaurs. or at least that's the general official story. my heart started to race as i read on in darren's papers to find out it wasn't the whole story...
_
in the documents a whole new chapter to this era of palaeo history was added. while the famous exploits of the two teams were going on in the public eye, on the fringe there was something more ominous going down. in 1912 the canadian geologic survey detected activities by a third player. an european aristocrat by the name of lord antonin annex.
_
darren was able to track down some letters from the survey to the british colonel office. the letters claimed this annex guy had his own agents working in alberta, who were digging up fossils and than smuggling them back to central europe to his private collect. the survey implored the british to assist them.
_
it was at this point the story ended. well at least in the papers in front of me... "hey what happened next?" i demanded of papers, not darren mind you. i was just annoyed as though i'd only gotten half a book, and it cut out at the best part.
_
darren grinned at me. "officially nothing," he typed something into the computer. "the british colonel office never replied, and these 'accusations' against annex were never proven."
_
"however try and look anything up from this period in the geologic survey's database and," darren explained as he hit a key. instead of access to the database, he got an access denied pop up requesting a user name and password. "kinda funny don't you think. what with this being a public database and all. i never would have found out a thing if i hadn't tracked down those hardcopies. "
_
"here is what happened next in 1912, as best i can put together," darren offered.
_
the colonial office did respond. though they were unable to take direct action against annex or his country due to the growing tensions that would explode into world war 1. however they were able to give the survey the resources it needed to deal with the situation internally. thus was born the dominion's (canada was called the dominion back than) palaeontologic commission.
_
"that sounds just like..." i started to say, meaning to say palaeo central.
_
darren cut me off agreeing with me. "yes, it does doesn't it."
_
darren flipped to what looked like some boring notes in a geologic survey manifest. they weren't boring at all on closer inspection though! they were chronological notes of the palaeontologic commission activities for the years 1912 through 1917...
_
"again, someone went to a lot of trouble to bury or cover up this organization," darren cautioned me. i could just picture professor paradigm with a big vault or something like one, stuffed full of books and paper. "i was just lucky enough to stumble across these summary notes taken by a secretary during a meeting somewhere. they weren't supposed to be taken. i suspect they were written as reminders for a bigger summary."
_
according to the notes, there'd been a secret battle going on in the back ground of the dinosaur rush. as the legitimate fossil hunters scoured the badlands, covertly so were people working for this lord annex. these "annex" agents got away with a lot in the first two years of the dinosaur rush...
_
lord annex had 14 skeletons dug up and smuggled to him (none of which have yet been accounted for). his agents sabotaged the legitimate crew's efforts, tried to play the them off each other, and even on occasion stole their fossils from under their own noses. that is till this palaeontologic commission began operations.
_
suddenly there was a counter-attack against annex's people in the badlands. there were a lot of exploits by the commission, but sadly these were only recorded in darren's book as one sentence summaries. many were very tantalizing, but of course lacking any details. after a couple of minutes the records for july 1914 caught my attention.
_
annex's men had been driven away from what would one day be dinosaur provincial park, and so they moved their operations up north. the society followed him, and this took them to around huxley!
_
"well done," darren smiled when i shoved the page with the reference in his face. "i wondered if you'd find that part."
_
darren handed me an official geologic field report with this photo attached. there was something about the picture that i found funny. i couldn't put my finger on it, but i'm sure i stared at it, as darren asked. "recognize it?"
_
"should i?" i answered with a question not looking up. the picture had me enthralled. i did feel as though it was familiar...

"you tell me," darren responded. "it is where you were born."

i looked up at darren and i'm sure my jaw dropped. that made no sense! how was it there was a photo of people working at my egg site almost a hundred years ago?!?

"remember how i told you a second ago charlie sternberg found this site in 1946. well i know as a matter of a fact that is almost the truth," darren clarified. "charlie did technically find it on his own, but he knew roughly where he should be looking... because of this." darren pointed to the report. "a field report written by member of the commission 32 years earlier."

"i thought you said that the palaeontologic commission was a secret," i challenged. "why would they have put out an official field report?"
_
"not report," darren corrected me. he pulled out the drawer this one had come from to show me it was full of similar documents. "but reports!"
_
"funny you should ask that, traumador," darren continued. "i wondered the same thing. at first it looked as though the geologic survey was trying to publish the findings of, but yet hide, the commission's scientific activities by claiming them as actions of some of sternberg's people (who were the canadian team in the rush)."
_
"wouldn't that ruin a cover up?" i wondered out loud. i would make the worst super spy ever people of the innerweb... i can hardly keep track of what's going on around me right now, that alone around other people. that alone try to picture what WILL happen to all these variables. yet even i knew publishing these field reports would catch someone's attention! as was clear by darren knowing about them...
_
"exactly," darren agreed with me. "in fact in 1918 there was a massive uproar within the geologic survey when these field reports were brought to the administrations’ attention."
_
darren pulled me out another larger photo. it looked like one of the men from the dig picture of my birth site, but i couldn't tell what he looked like. where his face should have been there was a hole.
_
"it turned out these reports had all be filed and published by this man. francis slate. a key agent of the commission, possibly THE key agent! by the time the survey found out what he'd been doing it was too late. too many copies of the reports had been printed and distributed. for them to get all of the copies back they'd have raised immediate attention to their contents. instead they just left them mixed in with the sternberg's reports where they went largely unnoticed for years," darren informed me.

"why would he want them published in the first place?" i asked. "won't that break his cover?"

"i don't know," darren confessed. "it's only one of the many things i'd like to know about this man!"

"if i had to guess, as the reports are only on scientifically important sites, i think he just wanted them to be known by other people," darren informed. "slate seldom ever collected things himself. on occasion he did alert the american and canadian teams to skeletons, but many of his sites were well outside their operating area! if he hadn't recorded these other sites they might have remained unknown forever."
_
"for example he records, though rather cryptically, at your site... the presence of eggshell!" darren pointed to the report. holly smokes! he was right!!! this predated the first official discovery of dinosaur eggs in canada, at devil's coulee, by well over three quarters of a century!
_
"did he get in a lot of trouble?" i hesitantly asked, thinking how much trouble i'd gotten into for when i screwed up. i figured messing up a big conspiracy would lead to way worse punishments.
_
"no," darren said matter of factly. before i could ask he added. "he'd been dead nearly a year before the survey discovered the reports."
_
"slate died at the end of the dinosaur rush. with the withdraw of all the fossil hunters, annex didn't have the same cover he'd enjoyed up till than, and the outbreak of world war one made it difficult to ship to europe anyways. the lord pulled out of canada. due to this the geologic survey shut down the commission. all a few months after slate died." darren said sadly, as though this francis slate was a friend of his.
_
"you okay?" i sympathized.
_
"yes," darren said putting on a fake smile. "i just think it's tragic that the exploits of this man have been deliberately forgotten. in fact his whole life has been wiped out. there are no records of him before 1912," darren pointed to the photo i held in my claws. "there isn't even a good photo of him. any closeups of him have had his face destroyed or distorted on purpose. i'm sure for security purposes back than, but now that just means he is spectre of history."
_
there was a sombre silence between us for a minute. "anyways about 6 years ago i made a real effort to try and find out as much about francis slate as i could. him, and this lord annex, are the biggest unknown players in alberta's palaeontology left. to do this i recruited as much help as i could get to try and find francis' field report sites," darren told me.
_
"among this help was a person and a dinosaur you know. craig and larry," he emphasised.
_
"craig had been helping me with my lost quarry project [post on this ubber soon promise!] for a while. so i gave him your site's field report to check out that week. as for larry i have no idea why he suddenly took interest in field work, but when he heard we were checking around huxley he insisted that he was coming to help. i needed all the help i could get, and i wasn't not arguing with a fully grown tyrannosaur," darren levelled with me. "so we all went our seperate ways in the morning, and by the end of the day next thing i knew craig came back to field camp with 9 field jacketed eggs, and you hatched and wrapped up in his hoodie."

if a tyrannosaur could cry i would have shed a tear there. fortunately for me we don't actually cry tears... though due to my hanging around humans i have picked up some of your emotional expressions, and i gave away my vulnerability by sniffling.
_
trying to change subjects to distract from my emotional moment i asked. "did you find out anything more about slate?"

"nope," darren said slightly resigned. "you and this drawer hold everything i was ever able to find out about francis slate. i gave up a few years ago, and am sticking with lost quarries that won't led to dead ends," with that he took back the papers from me, and put them back into the drawer which i than noticed he had double locking on.
_
well i had a few more answers about where i came from. at the same time i had some way bigger questions too. i was not feeling too chipper, as darren started to plug away at his puter.
_
i took this as my cue to leave. just as i was about to head out the door from behind me darren offered. "i have a free morning tomorrow," he had loaded a map onto the screen. "would you like to go see the site?" which i pointed to...

would i!?!?!
before you knew it i saying thank you over and over again, while shaking his hand so hard his voice came out funny when he asked me to stop.

it was set! tomorrow i'd have the master of finding lost dig sites take me to where i was dug up! though i knew in the small logic part of my head it won't answer all my questions, i still felt like tomorrow i'd finally know where i came from...

to be continued... where it ALL began!

(Production Note: Much of this post is fictional. References to Traumador's egg, the Palaeotolgic Commission, and Francis Slate are not real. Information on the Huxley Tyrannosaur IS factual though, and based on real events. The only fiction around this Tyrannosaur's history is Francis Slate's involvement with its discovery. In reality it WAS discovered by Charlie Sternberg in 1946 and dug up as described.)

2 comments:

Dinorider d'Andoandor said...

I also feel interested on dinopathology! :)

oh poor almost headless mom! at least she has something over there :(

that annexguy was really annoying! >:(

My favorite part: "so we all went our seperate ways in the morning, and by the end of the day next thing i knew craig came back to field camp with 9 field jacketed eggs, and you hatched and wrapped up in his hoodie."

Raptor Lewis said...

Hmm...You, my theropod friend, are more mysterious than I would have guessed. Apparently, all this happened after the American one. Competitors in the mid 1800s were Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. Which reminds me...there will will be apost very soon on this, I promise.