Meeting the Grim ReaperOn April 29th I worked the night shift in my small town on the central coast of California. As I worked, I dreamed of the fun to come tomorrow morning with 4 new friends from Europe who had contacted me via email and requested a joint dig in an area new to them. The night hours drug on into the wee morning hours and finally 3:30 am came, I got off work and drove to Bakersfield. At 6:00 am we met at a local hotel and put all the digging tools into my big Yukon XL and headed off to the local bluffs where most of the digging occurs. After some briefing on the history of where the teeth have been found and some brief familiarization, we got the tools out and hiked into the canyon.
Unlike some areas of the U.S. or the world for that matter, the bone bed here is deep in the soil and often requires hours of hard digging to get it exposed. The area most commonly dug is along some bluffs above the Kern River. The over burden can be 8 to 15 feet deep and the soil is very hard compacted silts. After about 45 minutes of hiking in and looking at sites where digging had been done we arrived at the spot where I had found teeth in the past. (see the previous report and pictures). I showed the group what I had in mind and that the bone layer was a good 8 feet down from the surface and would require a good 2 hours of pick and shovel digging. My new friends seemed very reluctant to do this work and chose instead to disperse and wander the bluffs looking at sites where others had dug in the past.
One fellow remained with me and we did an initial dig out and found the solid floor where the bone layer could be seen. He wanted to do some assessment of the quality of teeth that were here and wanted to just pick down at the bone layer and NOT do the safety dig off of over burden. Reluctantly I agreed to allow him to dig and he found about a dozen nice red and red/blue giant mako (I. hastalis) and hook tooth mako teeth (I. planus). He liked what he had found but was tired from 4 prior days of digging in the local area. He came out of the hole and one of his buddies from Europe went down in and poked around for a few minutes and came out.
Against my normal rules and common sense I got down into the hole and started to chip off the base to give us some more room to move when, without warning the overburden slumped down onto me. WOOMP, I was buried from my shoulders down to my feet by hundreds of pounds of compressed silt blocks. The guys immediately began digging off the soil blocks and in a few minutes had me uncovered down to mid thigh. I was seriously hurt and could not easily move. I was in great pain in the mid torso area and had great difficulty breathing. At one point I could see the corners of my vision going black and feared I was either going to pass out or die.
After about 30 minutes from when the hillside slumped to when I was dug out, we called 911. Fire and other rescue units arrived and in about 2 hours from the initial incident I was transported to the local trauma center. The doctors determine that I did NOT have any spinal, neck or head injuries and no internal bleeding. I did suffer 3 broken ribs from the x-ray and they thought perhaps more but did not do an MRI.
I have chosen to share this horrible incident because it serves as a good warning to always follow the first rules of fossiling. Be safe!!! Do not cut corners, do the safety work to protect yourself. I am not proud of my mental lapse but am glad that it was not worse for me or my friends.
Please have fun fossilling and please be safe and true to yourself and common sense.
|Sharktooth Hill, Bakersfield, California, USA