a new day, and a 'new' coal mine, in our search (by our i mean myself, tony, and yumi) for the lost quarrys of francis slate. we'd checked out three old mines already; the atlas, nacmine, and midland, so today we were checking out around the former star coal mine.
we didn't find anything overly exciting. nothing you haven't already seen in one of my other field reports.
that is till we came towards the end of the day, and we looking in some hills way at the back of the former star mine site. this was a really remote patch of badlands, it had taken us all day to get to them afterall (mind you at a slower pace due to our searching pretty thoroughly along the way).we were shocked to come across signs of other people being out here recently... in the form of a bunch of abandoned stuff. which on closer inspection could have only been left by one type of person... fossil hunters!
how we could tell, the abandoned stuff was all fossil collecting field gear.
most of it was relatively expendable gear, mind you, needed for making field jackets. a water jug you see in the left hand corner, and the blue sack in the upper right was full of burlap. field jacket materials normally aren't that crucial once you've made all the jackets that you need... so one could been seen leaving it behind if they had too...
however the yellow and blue pack sack had been used to haul in more important equipment. only in this case this equipment hadn't been up to the task.
when we opened it, inside the bad were broken awls (an awl is like a chisel, that you use to remove hard rock around a fossil), mud gummed paint and tooth brushes (used to softly remove rock around fossils), and finally a jack hammer or rock saw motor. we couldn't tell which it was from, but it was certainly a motor, a very broken one (they'd ripped it apart trying to fix it!).
me and tony stared at our "find" for several minutes in stunned silence.
i broke the quiet first, by longingly suggesting this might be a tyrrell dig site, and they'd simply just left the gear here overnight for when they came back to resume work tomorrow.
of course i was pretty sure this wasn't the case, and tony confirmed my suspicion immediately. the museum didn't have any field work going on right now, and had done none this season around this part of the valley.
furthermore if it had been a tyrrell team they never would have left gear lying around like this. for one the field jacketing supplies, while not the most vital, were still usable, and thus would still have been taken out with the rest of a team's gear. even the "rubbish" bag would never have been left as it would be polluting the badlands. waste like this would be hauled back to be properly disposed of.
no, sadly the story tony and yumi came up with after looking at the stuff was a bit more alarming. someone else had come out here to dig, which would have been against the law if not done without tyrrell approval (as the tyrrell is home to alberta's fossil permit issuing officer).
based on the tools being used, these were experienced people (often members of the general public pick equipment to dig fossils that might appear to be ideal, but in reality aren't as good as what we "pros" would use instead), so we could rule out amateurs. meaning they probably had a purpose being out here. they weren't going to be just digging up random edmontosaur bones (as is often the case with casual fossil diggers in alberta).
tony, whose been on a lot of museum sanctioned digs, thought based on the broken tools and especially the motor, we were looking at our mystery diggers first excavation attempt (i didn't like how tony was implying there were going to be more...). they'd probably picked up second hand or second rate tools to avoid being noticed, but after using them in real conditions had wrecked the substandard ones (which if you're trying to buy under the radar goods would happen).
which seemed to match the facts. the awls and brushes were no longer usable. they'd taken the rest of the jack hammer or saw with them, and simply abandoned the now dead motor. it would probably be easy to replace this single part (as opposed to the whole tool).
the field jacket supplies, tony reckoned, were left behind as they were easily replaced, and carrying less out of here would attract less attention. which if you were carrying out fossils collected illegally is just what you want to do. avoid anyone realizing you were taking them!
which they so far seemed to have done. had we not been out here today, this dig site may never have been noticed. a year from now, all the run off from rain and snow could very well have washed away or buried this gear.
the big question we were left with was who had done this? and more to the point what were they after?!?
yumi said she'd file an official report with the tyrrell tomorrow, and hopefully get an investigation into the incident launched (assuming there was a problem... there was still a chance this was a sanctioned dig we hadn't heard about... but we all doubted it, given the abandoned gear). this doubled the dark ramifications of today's find. not only was there a modern mystery quarry, but now yumi was taken out of action tomorrow on account of it.
i had a bad feeling about this...