Thought I'd say Hi and share what I've been up to for the last month and a half. I've been lucky enough to get access to the UNESCO world heritage listed Naracoorte cave system in South Australia. That Phd that nearly drove me insane does have its perks! In brief, Naracoorte is a rare example of a cave system open during the Pleistocene epoch (approx 2.5m BC to 11,000 years BC) but closed for the majority of the modern epoch (Holocene), this means that animals which died within have turned into unusually perfect fossils due to lack of disturbance from flooding and human activity. Universities have been excavating there since the 80s and my research interests got me a place on this years work. My area is the common trends of evolution in mammals since the K-Pg boundary event (End of dinosaurs asteroid), specifically I am interested in Australian megafauna (giant versions of today's animals). Australia offers a globally unique opportunity to study evolution free from cross contamination from other taxia, as Australia has been geographically isolated from the rest of the continents since the time of the Dinosaurs the evolution of mammals here is different to the rest of the world. In essence it is possible to study evolution here as a microcosm of the wider global process that saw mammals replace Dinosaurs as the dominant form of life. What I am looking for is a well preserved fossils of certain types of bones from several species from this era (things like hip bones, femurs, pelvic bones etc) that I can compare to fossils from species from older eras of geological time. I am hoping to demonstrate through comparisons that animals in Australia have gone through the evolutionary process in similar ways across eras and genus (groups of animals). this will add to existing research done elsewhere in the world that appears to show a commonality to evolution across mammal species since the K-Pg event. To explain this concept in a very nerdy way, take Star Trek for example...most of the alien species encountered walk upright with two legs and two arms and opposable thumbs, this is an example of a common evolutionary trend eg that shape is the most efficient for a sapient species. Ok so if I haven't lost you all now I'll go on...
Today I found a nearly perfectly preserved fossil of a femur belonging to an adult Procoptodon
(Giant Kangaroo). Was part of a bone pile in a deep deposit within a smaller offshoot of the cave system. Professionally its too early to say anything about it but I found what I think are clear as day, teeth marks and given its position within a bone pile I'd say a Thylacoleo Carnifex
(Marsupial Lion) was having a snack in the shade of the cave approx 50,000 years ago. The other staff have found Marsupial Lion fossils elsewhere in the cave (all from one animal about 40% complete) on previous excavations. The work is very cramped, the side cave is only about 1 metre high and 3 metres across, even though I'm very short its still easier to crawl on hands and knees then to crouch over. I have dug below the modern ground surface approximately by 40cm to a layer that predates the modern (last climate fluctuation approx 1500 years ago) reopening of Naracoorte after a 35-40,000 year period of being sealed shut. Many of the fossilized bones in the pile are so incomplete as to be unidentifiable (imho they have been cracked open for marrow as a modern big cat will do) but this femur is intact. I suspect it was too large for the animal to get a good grip on so that it couldn't chew through it. The femur is nearly 90cm long and 12cm wide and I estimate that the Giant Kangaroo it belonged to may have stood between 2.2 and 2.5 metres in height. So far this is the only intact fossil I have located in 6 weeks of excavations. By the end of the dig (another 5 weeks) I hope to reach the bottom of the bone pile and hopefully a few more diagnostic fossils from different species. Once the field work is done I will get the fossils radio carbon dated (fortunately because they come from a cave, the process will still be reliable as fossils near to or exposed on the surface have absorbed way too many radioactive isotopes from human nuclear testing to give an accurate carbon date anymore), otherwise I'd have to get a photonic decay test (the decay of light particles aka photons in soil) done which is more expensive and less accurate in these instances. 3 months of field work might yield 3-4 usable fossils, then 12 months of lab analysis and maybe, just maybe I will have 1 example to add to my database (so far only 7 commonalities from 5 years of work) then I can publish a paper and wait for the very polite but very firm disagreement and abuse to roll in from colleagues around the world LOL Maybe by the time I'm 50 I will have enough to write a book which nobody will read or care about
I can tell you all that I won't miss the caravan park, the communal shower block and the dirt and mud within the cave. I miss my PC and I miss F1 2017! Oh well, I shouldn't complain I have been very lucky to get this job so young.
Anyway thanks for reading and I'll catch you all in a month by which time hopefully CM will have fixed all the bugs in F1 2017.