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Dino squirrels

At the end of the cretaceous period the mammals were still small and scampering underfoot. One of the more successful groups were the multituberculates. They were small and probably very agile critters. They probably filled most of the ecological niches that today are the domain of modern squirrels. They survived long after the dinosaurs. But in the end they too became extinct. During the last decade there have been several South Carolina sites that have produced dinosaur material. It's all from the late Cretaceous. Several sites have large amounts of petrified wood. This would indicate a close to shore condition. Perhaps the mouth of a river. Where limbs and trees would wash out to sea and then sink in shallow water. Two experienced collectors have found most of the sites and collected most of the dinosaur material. So it came as no surprise when one of them found a femur from a small mammal. A trip to the Smithsonian verified that it was from a multituberculate. It was the oldest mammal ever found in South Carolina. It came from the Coachman section of the Black Creek Group. It was Campanian and dated to 78 myo. Up to that point the main emphasis had been to collect the dinosaur and marine reptiles. The screening of material was adjusted to collect smaller specimens. Since many of the mammal teeth we were looking for were less that 2 mm, we had to use magnification devices and sift through each piece. The teeth would be solid black. Mixed in with thousands of small pieces of irregular shaped phosphate. My garage lab was set up for the task with portable, and fixed, magnifiers. I decided to bring buckets of raw material the 100 miles back to my house and search trough it there. During a four month period I returned with approximately 25 square feet of material. Well over a ton in weight. It was slow work and required almost 100 hours. The end result was one mammal vertebrate and two teeth. One had the crown broken off. The other was easily identified as a Lp4 from a multituberculate. A friend just so happened to be working on Cretaceous mutituberculates for her doctorate in paleontology. She graciously took on the task of comparing it to the known East Coast species. It turned out to be rather unique. And a new species. It was a good lesson in collecting bias. We all too often rush through areas collecting only what we can readily see. One step ahead of the rabid collectors hot on our trail. Take a little time to collect some of the raw material from where you collect. Take it home and slowly look through it with a magnifying glass. You might just be amazed at what you'll find. That is, if you don't go "squirrely" first!
Location Florence County, South Carolina, USA

Date Added10/28/2006

This tooth measures 3 mm long. This "naked eye" view demonstrates how easy it is to overlook important fossils. The truth? The big fossils usually get all of the attention at the local fossil club "Show and tell". The small stuff will get the attention of the professionals.

Researching the past.
Researching the past.
Late Christmas
Late Christmas





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