In northeastern BC I've had the privilege of working on some spectacular paleontology sites with glamorous scenery that inspires one to run through alpine meadows singing. The Lotus Tracksite is one of those sites. Situated outside of the city of Chongqing, it gives off a sense of idyllic rural peacefulness.
|"The hills are alive with the sound of footprints! Lalalalaaaahaaaa!" (This is why I am a scientist and not a singer.) Mountain scenery of the Lotus Stockade Tracksite.|
|We followed the path to the farmhouse in the upper right corner of the photo.|
|Laura Pinuela and Martin Lockley.|
|Lovely terraced farms.|
|Babbling brook with sediment from a recent rain.|
|A completely different style of growing crops than I was used to seeing growing up in southern British Columbia farm country.|
|I was not brave enough to try one of the fresh spicy peppers seen on this pepper plant. I hang my head in shame. (No one else tried one either, so I am in good company!)|
|Daniel Marty and the resident farm ducks. These ducks spent a great deal of time free-ranging in the fields. They are also a possible modern analog for a webbed bird footprint from the Cretaceous, named Uhangrichnus.|
|Our brief reprieve at the farmhouse. Lida Xing (left), Martin Lockley (right).|
|Can you see the tracksite from here? If I were going to hide from raiders, this would be the place.|
|So many steps...|
|The Lotus Tracksite from the stairs. Almost there!|
As the Lotus Stockade is now a heritage tourism destination (thanks to the work of Lida Xing), there were visitor friendly additions to the actual site (including the stairs). Wooden boardwalks are installed so that people can view the tracks without stepping on them. As the derelicts that ichnologists are, the first thing we did was physically explore the track surface.
|Approaching the tracksite.|
|Wooden barricades keep distracted paleontologists corralled.|
|The interpretation of ornithopod tracks as preserved lotus impressions does not require a large leap in imagination. Check out the original image here.|
|The upper ornithopod surface, viewable through a plexiglass floor. Us delinquent ichnologists had special permission to crawl all over the surface.|
Here's how Team Bird tackled a several square meter surface that contains over 200 footprints (218 according to my field notes.) First, we found a very distinct footprint with a clear digit III preserved. The end of digit III was the anchor point for the next step. Second, we established a 1 meter by 1 meter grid system along the surface. We established the grid using fairly old-school techniques: a compass, a meter stick, and chalk.
Next, we physically gridded the entire track-bearing surface. We went through a great deal of chalk! We saved our welder's soapstone pens for the next step of physically outlining each and every footprint we could see on the surface. Establishing the physical grid took about half a day (we checked, double-checked, and triple-checked for repeatability) while the outlining of the prints took about another half of a day. It is a long process, but it makes the data collection all the more simple.
Next, we labeled each footprint according to the grid square in which it occurred (e.g. track B10-1, A2-7, etc.) Each print was photographed from multiple angles for future digitizing work, as well as each individual grid square. After the tracks were labeled and individually photographed, physical measurements were collected (I rarely collect data from photographs if I have the original specimens at hand.)
|Rich McCrea (foreground) of Team Bird photographing gridded squares while Martin Lockley paints latex on a specimen for replication. Team Ornithopod is in the background.|
|Team Ornithopod tracing the upper surface.|
|A hot lunch at the Lotus Tracksite.|
|The final step: tracing the surface onto plastic sheets. Not only did we trace on the prints on the plastic map, but we traced on the corners of the grid squares for reference.|
Other researchers and conference attendees arrived during our three day session at the Lotus Track, which allowed for more eyes on the surface.
Team Bird was finished the documentation of the lower surface late in the afternoon of the 28th. It's an odd feeling to be finished documenting a surface. I always feel as though I should be doing something else, but we had done everything we could do in the time frame available. We were done. Team Ornithopod continued into the evening, but they too were finished on the 28th. Now all we had to do was to put our finishing touches on our presentations and switch to conference mode! The conference was fascinating, and I am pleased to say that my presentation on the multivariate analysis of Mesozoic bird footprints was very well received.
|The traced plastic maps, all bundled up and ready to head to the lab for interpretation.|
That's it for now!