I have been working down at Thanksgiving Point’s Museum of Ancient Life for 4 days now trying out the new microscope equipment on the block. I have to admit I have been loving it! It feels good to be preparing fossils on a big project again, especially ones you really have to work for. The prep on this block is not the hardest ever, but it does take a lot of care, forethought and vigilance- it is so easy to screw up!
So where does one begin to prepare a block the size of a king-size bed? I decided to go where I’d already exposed some bone a while back that included a juvenile raptor maxilla (upper tooth-bearing element in the mouth). I am attaching a few rather crude images of the bone; hopefully we’ll have a good microvideo camera soon so you can see much better pics. Anyway, I cannot tell yet whether we’re looking at the inside or outside of a right or a left maxilla, but maybe someone who knows their bones better than I can determine that and let us know.
The teeth are pretty obvious in these pics, and you’ve probably guessed that the front of the bone it to the left. In life there would be other bones attached both in front and behind the maxilla, but those bones appear to have drifted apart after death. That’s a 10cm scale bar next to the bone. I actually rotated the image 180 degrees, as well, because the image makes more sense this way, but it is “upside down” from the way I was seeing it as I prepared it.
If you look very closely at the second to last large tooth, you’ll see it appears to have a little pocket of matrix (rock) at its base with a tiny reddish dot in it. The back side of the dot has serrations on it. It’s a replacement tooth coming in! I should be so lucky.
One thing about finally getting some good microscope equipment is that I now get to see all the mistakes I made when I tried to do this work with crappy optics in an uncomfortable space. This bone was first exposed when the megablock was sitting in a maintenance garage at Thanksgiving Point waited to be moved to the museum lab. The block was a few inches too wide to fit through the big doors so I had to trim some off rock and bone before the move. It was a cold garage with dim lighting and I did not have a microscope and good hand tools to help with the work. If you look carefully you can see some pretty serious dings and holes in the bone and teeth. That’s what happens when you don’t have the right tools. We should not have this problem moving forward now that we have some good optics. Thanks to all of you who made this possible with your donations!
I hope to have much more to show in the days ahead. Please check back often! We’ll also be getting some input from other members of the Utahraptor Project who know these animals pretty well. Stay with us to learn more.
-Scott Madsen, March 7, 2017