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COLLECTING A FOSSIL TORTOISE AT TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES      October 5-6, 2010

Dick left Paris, TX, on Monday morning, October 4th, and drove 720 miles to Gary Morgan’s house in Albuquerque, NM, arriving that evening.  After a good night’s rest, Dick drove with Gary Morgan and a museum crew from the New Mexico Museum of Natural  History (Paul Sealey, Warren Slade, and Larry Rinehart) to a fossil tortoise locality, 15 miles south of Truth or Consequences, NM,  to excavate a 2-million year old, giant tortoise.  Paul had found this specimen last year, eroding from early Pleistocene river gravels, in the Rio Grande valley.  The tortoise, probably a new species of Hesperotestudo, was found sticking out of a nearly-vertical face of loosely-compacted conglomerates near I-25.  The crew had no idea how big the tortoise was, or what it would take to dig this sucker from its gravel grave.  At first, the crew thought it was only a fragment of the shell, but, as they dug, it grew in size and completeness.  After two days of work, the crew had managed to excavate and secure four sections of this fossil with plaster jackets.  It was decided that the tortoise was about 80% complete and over 3-feet in shell length.  Gravity allowed the crew to move this 4-5 hundred lb. monster down-hill towards the truck.  By the end of the second day, the crew was happy to have secured this beast, but each member was very tired from 2 days of  hard labor that included a restless night with achy bones (the youngest of the crew was 58 years old) in tents along the Rio Grande River. 


 Fossil tortoise as we first saw it

 Close up of the tortoise

 View of the tortoise from the
bottom of the slope
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Gary and Larry excavating the tortoise

The tortoise, thought to be one of the best preserved specimens of this fossil species ever collected, now resides in the paleontological collection at the New Mexico museum.  The specimen will need to be prepared by professional museum staff members who specialize in bone and skeleton preservation. Their first action will be to remove the enclosing plaster jackets from the shell that the crew placed there to protect the bones during transport.  The preparators will then clean the bones, harden them with glues, and reconstruct the shell as needed.


View of the surrounding Rio Grande River valley from the tortoise site

Camp site along the Rio Grande River

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History, the final depository for
this 2-million year old fossil



Gary and Larry making the plaster jacket around the tortoise


NEXT STOPS for Dick will be Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and some bicycle riding.  Next week Gary and Dick will drive to Mesa AZ to study specimens at the Mesa museum.
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