Archive for June 5th, 2009

First Find

June 5th, 2009

NEAR KHAMONTOVO, LENINGRAD REGION, RUSSIA–When you’re a paleontologist in the field with other geologists for the first time, you need to prove your general scientific worth by either saying witty things or finding an excellent specimen right away. I went for the latter and picked up on our first outcrop the rhombiferans you see below. I’m golden now, at least for a few days.

Ordovician outcrop near the field house, and the beautiful eocrinoids found there.

Ordovician outcrop near the field house, and the beautiful rhombiferans (probably Glyptocystites) found there.

Rhombiferans are Early Paleozoic echinoderms which resemble crinoids and blastoids but have few brachioles (extensions around the mouth to filter food from the water). I’ve only previously seen random plates and holdfasts, so I was plenty surprised by these beauties. I donated them graciously, of course, to the echinoderm expert. This is not hard to do since Russian law does not allow foreigners to take fossils out of the country.

A Geological Field House

June 5th, 2009

NEAR KHAMONTOVO, LENINGRAD REGION, RUSSIA–It is not your typical Russian dacha, this field house.  It was purchased partially-finished by Andrey because it is ideally located (N60.01114°, E32.56416°) very near important Paleozoic outcrops.  The setting is beautiful — on the top of a steep bank overlooking the Lynna River as it meets the larger Sass River.

Our field house on the first day of our work.

Our field house on the first day of our work.

There is no running water, but there is electricity (most of the time).  Heat was originally supplied by a large wood-burning stove, but alas (!) someone broke in and stole it before we arrived.  It is a very cold place right now, so I wear my down jacket all the time, even to bed.  The outhouse is … well … as basic as it can get in the hole-in-the-floor Russian fashion.  Our water comes either directly from the river or from a nearby well.  “Completely pure and safe to drink”, I’m told.  I’ve seen the outhouse, though, and I’m imagining a few hundred others like it upstream.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent base for just what we want to do.  One of the prime outcrops is just a few meters away from the front door, and the others we need on this expedition are mostly within 10 kilometers.  I can rough it here for two weeks, especially since there isn’t a mirror in the house.  Another benefit is that I’m a guest of the Russian Academy of Sciences — the lodging, food and transport here doesn’t cost a kopeck.

We are joined in this house and in the field by another member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Nikolai Kuznetsov, and two geologist-technicians, Andrei Schatsilov and Sergei Orlov.  They are interested in tectonic and paleogeographic issues with the Lower Paleozoic of this area.

Sleeper Train West

June 5th, 2009

Andrey and I boarded a west-bound train in Moscow at 6:25 in the evening. It is a nine-hour ride to Volkhov, so the cars are equipped as sleepers. This meant that we shared an open compartment with two other people, and then at some point of mutual agreement we made our beds by placing sheets on thin mattresses and spreading them out on the seating benches and the two suspended bunks above. Andrey and I had upper bunks, which meant we climbed high and slid ourselves into narrow alcoves about two feet wide and something considerably less than 6’3″ long. My sock-clad feet hung out over the aisle, unfortunately, to be frequently bumped with a whispered “izveeneetyeh” (excuse me). Since our stop was at 3:15 a.m., I didn’t sleep well because I was worried they wouldn’t wake us.

Train loading at Moscow Station.

Train loading at Moscow Station.

The uniformed car attendants did wake us in time to fumble on our shoes and gather our luggage as the train slowed. I lugged that 57-pound suitcase of equipment down the dark aisle, doing a set of my own izveeneetyehs. We were dropped off on a railroad siding opposite the station, so all the passengers as a matter of course climbed down onto the tracks, crossing them in the dusky lighting of one of the famous “white nights”. We waited in the station another six hours for a local train to take us fifteen minutes to the field house, which is fortunately only 200 meters from the tracks. The temperature was 40° F with a light rain — not nearly as warm as I expected!

Train stop near the field house, Leningrad Region.

Train stop near the field house, Leningrad Region.