When the dinosaur died

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Broken chips of bone lie under my boots, wretched fragments from now unidentifiable bones which had eroded long before we found the site. (Animated dinosaur)Even though I know I can’t identify the bits of bone, I pick one up anyway because there is something special about the feel of dinosaur bone very early in the morning. Some of the broken bits are incredibly delicate bubbles of bone, a frothy texture of holes and vesicles that housed the living substance of the animal’s cells. (Animated dinosaur for sale)These bits crumble into shards if I rub them too hard, but in life the brittle bone crystals were embedded in a fabric of tough connective tissue, collagen fibers whose great tensile strength combined with the hardness of the bone crystals to produce a living bony architecture capable of resisting enormous loads of both compression and tension. Collagen has long since rotted away, along with all the muscle fibers and blood vessels. But the fossilized bone faithfully preserves the canals left by every capillary that made its passage through it to serve the dinosaur in life. Those living cells, now gone, left one other signature on this carcass. A black powder rubs into my gloves as I finger the bone chips. This powder is carbon dust mixed with granulated bone, the dried and distilled residue of all the cell membranes, cell fluids, and organelles whose work within the bone was ended when the dinosaur died.


Reverie is normal in Wyoming at sunrise. I suppose a nononsense laboratory scientist, clad in his white lab coat and steelyeyed objectivity, might think I was wasting my time communing with the spirit of the fossil beast. (realistic dinosaur costume for sale)But scientists need reverie. We need long walks and quiet times at the quarry to let the whole pattern of fossil history sink into our consciousness.


As I walk back to camp from the quarry, I climb through the ledges of hard rock, benches of limestone, each an irregular mosaic of ovoid nodules, each extremely hard and long-lasting in this dry climate and each a timekeeper and recorder of past climate. (walking with dinosaur costume)Taken altogether, this irregular staircase of rock is a chronicle of the dinosaurs’ success throughout a great age in the history of life. The nodules grew from tiny mineral seeds in the well-drained soil of the floodplain where dinosaurs browsed the leaves of conifers, and birds with teeth glided from one tree crown to the other. In the rainy season, floods covered the landscape with chocolatecolored water full of mud and grit so that each flood added yet another layer of sediment to the gradually accruing stratigraphic pile. The seasonal flux of the water table—up near the surface during the rainy season, down during the dry season—stained the layers of sediment in blotches of green and mauve, blotches known to soil scientists by the Welsh word “gley.”