Archive for June, 2010

The last of Scorpion Wash

June 11th, 2010

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — The 2010 Wooster Geology Israel team finished its work today in the Upper Cretaceous rocks at our northern locality, Wadi Aqrav.  We measured several dozen cobbles from the base of the Menuha Formation, and then collected fossils from the Zihor Formation which we had previously measured.  We are now looking forward to a shabbat dinner at the home of our hosts Yoav and Noa, and then a trip tomorrow to visit Masada and the Dead Sea.

View of the cobble-bearing bedding plane at the base of the Menuha Formation (Late Cretaceous) from the cliff above.

An abraded oyster attached to the bored surface of one of the cobbles. This is the kind of hard-substrate paleontology I enjoy.

On the left is a large ammonite found in the middle of the Zihor Formation. It is encrusted on one side by oysters. On the right is a bit of vertebrate bone incorporated in the cobbles at the base of the Menuha Formation. (Yes, I think it must be from a dinosaur.)

Wooster’s first dinosaur! (Well … maybe.)

June 10th, 2010

Wooster's first dinosaur! (Well … maybe.)

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — This morning while collecting fossils in the Zihor Formation (Upper Cretaceous) we found the above bones and several other smaller fragments.  They are reptile bones as shown by their density and configuration.  The shape of the larger piece looks dinosaurian to me, but it may be wishful thinking.  We will turn them over to the Survey and park authorities, along with their exact location coordinates, so that maybe later a vertebrate paleontologist will examine them and explore the site further.  Dinosaurs are very rare in the Middle East so this could be a good story someday.  In any case, it was fun being vertebrate paleontologists for awhile!

UPDATE: Mosasaur bones, it turns out. Just as cool, I say.

Yes, we are finding plenty of fossil shark teeth in the Negev

June 10th, 2010

Andrew Retzler holds the teeth he found at one location in the Menuha Formation (Upper Cretaceous) during today's fieldwork.

Wooster Geologists in Egypt! (Briefly, and just a few inches over the border)

June 10th, 2010


Near HAR ARIF, SINAI PENINSULA, EGYPT — An unscheduled visit, it was.  This morning we needed to park our rental car at a border post so that we could all jam into a 4-wheel drive vehicle from the Geological Survey to travel some rough roads.  Approaching the base, our Israeli colleague noticed that someone had left the gate open to the border road which runs north.  We dashed through it so that we could look down into Sinai.  We drove until we found a hole in the border fence, leaped out and took photographs of the spectacular Wadi Arish below us, and then quickly drove back through the gate before anyone noticed.  No one did!

Wadi Arish. Good morning, Egypt!

Northern exposure

June 9th, 2010

Micah Risacher collecting fossils at one of our northern study sections in Wadi Aqrav. He is gathering fossils from the Zichor Formation (Late Cretaceous). Coordinates: N30° 33.741', E34° 38.926'.

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — Another day of learning Upper Cretaceous stratigraphy from Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel, this time in the north of our field area.  Just as last month in Mississippi and Alabama, we deployed the classic paleontological technique of sitting in one place in the sun and filling little bags with tiny treasures.

One of our primary goals for this project is to sort out the depositional environments for the Upper Cretaceous units formed near the developing monocline which will become Makhtesh Ramon.  We want to test the competing ideas that the sediments of the Menuha Formation were deposited in either very shallow or very deep water.  Today Yoav found a bedding plane of cobbles in place at the base of the Menuha.  They look like they were on the bottom of a tidal pool after the water was drained.  The cobbles are heavily bored by bivalves and worms, almost entirely on their tops.  I taught Yoav the American term “slam-dunk” when it comes to supporting the shallow water hypothesis.

Bed of cobbles at the base of the Menuha Formation. Micah in the background.

A closer view of the cobbles showing that they were bored by shallow water organisms which produced the trace fossils Gastrochaenolites and Trypanites.

The good news about fieldwork in southern Israel is that we don’t worry about snakes. The bad news …

June 9th, 2010

Don't worry, family members. These items are rare in our field area and easily avoided. I've seen more unexploded ordnance in the Mojave Desert of California. It is a mortar shell, by the way, probably set on the rocky shelf by an absent-minded Israeli soldier decades ago.

A desert bird in the hand

June 9th, 2010


MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — While driving to our outcrops today north of Makhtesh Ramon, we came across four researchers catching and tagging small birds in the early morning.  They are from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and are studying the migratory habits of small birds which they trap in mist nets deployed over a small patch of water (Hemet Cistern).  The birds are experiencing a population explosion because the drought recently broke in the Negev and seeds are unusually abundant.  Some of these birds migrate yearly to India and back.  (Like many other Israelis, come to think of it!)

Half of the bird-banding team at Hemet Cistern, north of Mitzpe Ramon.

It is always fun to participate in the universal culture of science.  Scientists around the world love to talk about their work and ideas with curious strangers, especially if they are also scientists.

Southern Exposure

June 8th, 2010

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — Could the contrast be any more dramatic than when comparing the Wooster Alaska expedition images on this blog to those here from the Wooster Israel team?  Alaska looks so very green, cold and wet from here!

Two Wooster geology seniors in very different places this week. Andrew Retzler (left) is enjoying some respite from the blazing sun in southern Israel; Stephanie Jarvis (right) is cooking soup on the ice in Alaska. These two students have known each other well since they were both in Hayden Schilling's First Year Seminar course three years ago.

Today we explored what we call the “Southern Section” of the Menuha Formation (Late Cretaceous) south of Makhtesh Ramon.  The structure here is as complex as I’ve ever worked with, from overturned beds to limestone dikes.  (Yes, petrologists — limestone dikes.)  We found plenty of shark teeth for Andrew and Stuart’s projects, and through our friend Yoav Avni had an excellent introduction to the complex stratigraphy.  Way complex stratigraphy.

Walking along the base of the Menuha Formation south of Makhtesh Ramon.

The trace fossil Thalassinoides near the middle of the Menuha Formation. This structure may prove important for sorting out the depositional environment of these beds.

Shark teeth recently found by Andrew in the Menuha Formation. The one on the left was from today's work; the one on the right from yesterday.

A typical field geology day in the Negev

June 7th, 2010

Exploring a portion of the Menuha Formation (Upper Cretaceous) in Wadi Aqrav (“Scorpion Wash” which we may rename “Tick Wash”). Coordinates: N30° 33.712′, E34° 38.844′.

Our source of shade in Wadi Aqrav is unusually good (until the afternoon sun finds the inside).

Our team in the Wadi Aqrav cave, left to right: Stuart Chubb (Birkbeck College, London), Andrew Retzler (Wooster senior) and Micah Risacher (Wooster senior).

Excellent fossil echinoids we found today in the Menuha Formation. The one on the left is a regular echinoid (the sea urchin type); the one on the right is an irregular echinoid (the sea biscuit type).

A friendly gecko on a hot and long field day

June 6th, 2010

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL — The Wooster Israel team worked hard today at the western end of the Makhtesh Ramon geological structure, about 20 km west of Mitzpe Ramon.  Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey led us on a very useful traverse of Coniacian through Campanian (Late Cretaceous) rocks in preparation for our measuring and sampling later this week.  Again, establishing boundaries first is the key to everything else we will do here.  It was a hot day, which is far from unexpected in the Negev Desert.

View east from the western end of Makhtesh Ramon. The dark areas in the left side of the image are exhumed Early Cretaceous lava flows. The triangular feature in the far center is the coagulated neck of a volcano which may have been a source for some of the flows.

Shade is precious here.  (Very precious.)  Since there are no trees we look for clefts in the rock for some respite from the sun.  Other animals, of course, crave the same protection, so we often first sweep out bat and rodent droppings and the like.  In one small cave today we met the gecko pictured above.  It was so delicately posed we just had to add him to the blog.

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