2022 Updates from the Field~with Ancient Odysseys
For the most part, the 2022 field season was back to pre-pandemic scheduling. We're pleased to share notable news from some of the dig sites featured on Ancient Odysseys.
Starting in 2021, the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist began conducting fieldwork at Willow Springs Campsite in the southern Laramie Valley. The location has served as a hub of continuous Native American occupation for at least 1,500 years, with evidence suggesting that this area has been in use as a trail for thousands of years.
In the summer of 2022, a team of citizen scientists worked alongside state archaeologist Spencer Pelton to excavate at Willow Springs. The team found artifacts from the time period ranging from 1862-1869 when Willow Springs was an Overland Trail Stage stop.
The archaeological artifacts found amounted to a pile of trash…in the most literal sense! This year’s excavation unearthed bottles, butchered animal bones, burned lumber, hardware and a range of other items associated with the operation of the Willow Springs Overland Trail Stage Station during the 1860s and 1870s.
Who cares about trash?
For archaeologists, trash pits like the one found this season are valuable time capsules that provide a snapshot of what life was like during a particular moment in time in the past. In this case, researchers can understand what people ate and carried as they made their way across the United States in the late 19th century.
The artifacts found this season will be analyzed to gain a better understanding of the nature and history of occupations at this Overland Trail stage stop.
The Willow Springs Campsite excavation will continue in June of 2023. If you are interested in participating in the 2023 excavation at Willow Springs in Wyoming, we’ll be posting exact dates and details when we have more information.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton had a newsworthy year with a number of new discoveries and publications over the course of 2022.
A new baby dinosaur
In April, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum announced the discovery of Australia’s smallest sauropod. Nicknamed "Oliver," the juvenile Diamantinasaurus matildae is the third specimen to be referred to the species. It was discovered on Elderslie Station, near Winton, and excavated by museum staff and volunteers in 2012. Most of Oliver's bones were found one metre below the surface, sitting on a layer of fossilised flowering plants, ginkgo and fern leaves. Oliver's remains consist of three thoracic vertebrae, several ribs, a scapula, a humerus, a thumb claw and a femur. Samantha Rigby began researching Oliver in 2020 as part of a Master of Science at Swinburne University of Technology. Using a handheld laser scanner, Sam digitally scanned each bone from the specimen to create three-dimensional models that could be compared to other sauropod fossils in the Museum collection.
Through this process Sam and colleagues discovered that Oliver belongs to Diamantinasaurus matildae. The presence of juvenile characteristics, such as an unfused vertebra, minimal muscle scarring, smooth bone texturing and marked proportional differences to an adult, further support the idea that any differences are developmental rather than taxonomic. Given that only a few juvenile sauropod fossils have been found globally and identification to species level is difficult based on adult holotypes, Oliver represents an incredibly rare find.
The broken dinosaur killer
A new species of crocodile was announced by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in February, 2022, that of Confractosuchus sauroktonos, or broken dinosaur killer. The 95 million year old small bones of this crocodile specimen were discovered on Elderslie Station and excavated by staff and volunteers from the Museum in 2010.
The broken dinosaur killer crocodile was found with the gut contents with the remains of its last meal, which was a small juvenile ornithopod dinosaur. This is the first evidence of crocodile/dinosaur predation in Australia and the discovery itself is extremely rare, as only a handful of examples of dinosaur predation are known globally.
If you would like to join in on the important task of preparing fossils for study with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, join their 1-day, 3-day or 5-day Prep-a-Dino experiences. Exact 2023 dates and details will be released when we have more information.
If you or someone you know is interested in being a part of the discovery efforts on one of these digs next season, please check back or sign up to receive the Ancient Odysseys newsletter.