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New and ongoing dig finds!

July 17, 2013

by: Debbie Haeberlin

I am excited to share that the paleodig has been ongoing, and I will continue exposing about once per week through the end of August. Since the first blog, I have been down there three times to dig. I have also learned what those little black bones are. They are the phalanges of a peccary. After looking at other phalanges, the bones I found seem to be from a younger animal that had not reached adulthood.

The second dig exposed a few shards of bone, some of which is white and some is black indicating the mineral manganese once again. On the third dig I was able to finish my section (12x12 inches) and as guests walked by I discovered a small tooth. I found this to be very exciting!! Something I learned about peccary teeth is that their molars are a bit pointier than ours, so what I initially thought my be the root of a tooth was in fact the normal exposed part of the tooth. The enamel coating on teeth does a fantastic job protecting them from eroding factors, even on the surface, we just happen to be lucky enough to have a cave that protected an entire bone bed from weathering away thus giving everyone an amazing opportunity to view this fascinating discovery.

Dig number four has turned out to be the most exciting yet!!!! Keep in mind we have just scratched the surface! Last Tuesday I went down in the cave and marked off a new 12x12 inches section right next to the one I had just exposed. Once I make a 12x12 section, I divide that into a grid of nine 4x4in squares and then it is time to start. Within five minutes I found bone! It was a rather large piece and it gave me a great amount of excitement and enthusiasm right from the beginning. This piece is near the two black phalanges in the upper part of the dig. It sticks out from the side and obviously into another section that will one day be exposed. This bone is white in color and it is possible that it is a metacarpal. After this exposure I moved one square over, closer to the trail, while most of it was just mud, I soon found something hard at the edge of that small section. If you are curious about the tools I am using, they are plastic clay modeling tools. By using plastic I can avoid accidentally damaging a bone. Also each end is different, one tool had a flat end on one side and a broader pointy end on the other. The second tool had a curved end and a thin pointy end. I use the different ends to peel away the layers of clay and to gently pick away tiny pieces of sediment once I find a bone. As I peeled off the upper layers close to this hard thing, I started to realize, this is big!! When guests walked by I showed them what I was working on with a promise to not leave until I knew what it was!! This was a very slow and tedious process as I spent the next 2.5 hours working on this 4x4 section. The bones were very bumpy, and i often had to use the tiny tool (think end of a skinny paintbrush) to gently pick away the mud. To not damage the bone, I would use a paintbrush, and brush away the now loose pieces of mud. Everywhere I touched, there was bone!!! After an hour or so, the picture started becoming clearer. This is a jaw!!!!! I have found a part of a peccary skull and people can actually see this one, right off the trail!!! (so far all the skulls are off the visible path) I was able to identify a row of teeth by comparing them to the tooth I had found the previous week which lies very close to the jaw. I am still not certain if this is an upper or lower jaw, but I am hoping to find out more when I do the next dig.

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