Archaeology Alive


Nancy Granados using a tool to excavate a fossil from its jacket. Photos by Ryan Gibson.

Nancy Granados using a tool to excavate a fossil from its jacket. Photos by Ryan Gibson.

At the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, Chaffey College student Nancy Granados is an intern for the paleontology department. The department is led by Maureen Walsh. The LA Natural History Museum explores three main sites: the Gnatalie Quarry in Utah (Late Jurassic), Beasty Wild, NM (Late Cretaceous) , and the Augusta Mountains of Nevada (Mid Triassic).

During extraction, the archeologists hammer out space around the fossil, which creates room to form a cast around the fossil called a “jacket.” The jacket is composed of plaster and aggregate to increase its strength, they then flip the fossil over to  safely remove the fossil from the earth. Upon extraction, the fossil is brought back to the LA Natural History Museum where it’s logged, mapped and prepared for curation. Preparation is the extraction of the actual fossil from the jacket it was extracted in. After this, fossils are identified, dated and curated into the collection. 

A fully excavated fossil and its jacket placed next to one another.

A fully excavated fossil and its jacket placed next to one another.

During my visit, Granados was preparing a sauropod fossil inside the museum. Using a mini jackhammer, she carved the fossil from its jackets and excess aggregate. Granados is a biology major with the intent to change her major to either anthropology or archeology. She is doing this internship to gain direction for what she wants to do with her degree. Gueorgui Gueorguiev, an astronomy professor at Chaffey College, is the faculty facilitator for the interns at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. 

“They spent the first week working with the Illustration and Digitalization Specialist, Stephanie Ramowitz,” said Gueorguiv, “They had to identify the bones from the newly excavated site the museum has been working on for many years.” The project required them to record the exact placement and position that the bones were found in at the field site. Nancy and the other intern created an accurate image of the subject using Adobe Illustrator, then placed the graphic onto a “master map” of the excavation site.

The dig team campsite at the Gnatalie Quarry.

The dig team campsite at the Gnatalie Quarry.

The master map is a log of the sizing, discovery location and placement of each bone at the site. The map is not only indicative of discoveries on site, but an in-depth analysis of its topography and discovery history. The interns were tasked with taking the paperwork that the excavated bones come with and determining how and where to position the graphic on the master map.

The newest project the team at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum is taking on takes place in Antarctica. The dig team spent a number of weeks in Antarctica, recovering unique jackets to excavate, research, curate and map over the years.