Ancient Fossils Unearthed On Trek To Antarctica

That’s right, a helicopter. West noted these pilots were extremely skilled and could land almost anywhere: “I rode in the helicopter a few times…they didn’t just pick up specimens, we were able to find sites from the air and drop down on to them.”

Helicopter carrying out plesiosaur fossils (Photo by Matt Lamanna)
Helicopter carrying out plesiosaur fossils (Photo by Matt Lamanna)

Antarctica is one of the greatest frontiers for scientists, and a place where paleontologists know there are great fossils, but have more than a hard time reaching them. For a young paleontologist like West, heading to Antarctica was a dream: “I’ve always wanted to go to the Antarctic, it’s always been a goal. It’s such a rad place!” Unsurprisingly, she founds its beauty enchanting—“When you are there, there is no noise, just the sound of the sea and the ice cracking, and the wind.”

Even though it was beautiful, Antarctica is no doubt a challenging place to work. Bad weather relegated the team to a communal tent for two days when the conditions were too bad to go out fossil hunting: “We played cards and watched all of the Conan and the Barbarian movies,” West remembered fondly, mentioning they could charge their laptops on a generator to provide some entertainment. The food was good, but sometimes simple pleasures made all of the difference in the harsh unforgiving environment: “One day the camp manager Brett came out holding these cans without labels on them…he had made us dulce de leche out of cans of condensed milk he found.”

Excavation pit in search of Cretaceous vertebrates (Photo by Matt Lamanna)
Excavation pit in search of Cretaceous vertebrates (Photo by Matt Lamanna)

After 4 weeks of this intense prospecting and excavation, the team amassed “literally a ton” of material that is currently headed back to the Carnegie Museum for future study. The hundreds of specimens collected on this trip alone will keep the team busy for years to come, or at least until they head back into the field. I asked her—does she want to go back or was 4 weeks in Antarctica enough? “I didn’t want to leave! I want to camp there all winter.” Clearly a true explorer, I have no doubt she is 100% serious.

This post originally appeared on on May 18, 2016


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