Saturday, 30 May 2020


This is a composite photo called Dancing Chilkat. It is of my beautiful grandmother, Elizabeth Alberta Henderson neé Hunt, as a young bride. ​

The Chilkat Naaxein you see here was woven by Anisalaga, a Master Chilkat Weaver from whom both she and I descend. 

Anis'laga / Anisalaga / Ansnaq / Anéin / A'naeesla'ga / Mary Ebbets Hunt held many names. She is the blood that binds all the Hunts on the West Coast of British Columbia. Her given Kwak'wala name was Musgemxàala.

She belonged to the Raven/Yéil phratry of the Gigalgam Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongass. Anisalaga is the blood that binds all the Hunts, Hendersons and more than 1,200 cousins on the West Coast of British Columbia. 

Anisalaga was a descendant of the Head-Chief of Wrangell (Anisalaga's father's father) and Chief Shaawatshook'u Eesh Keishíshk' Shakes IV (her mother's father), whose wife was S’eitlin II, a Deisheetaan of the Raven moiety whose principal crest is the Beaver/S'igeidí, Gaanax.ádi Drifted Ashore House, Xutsnoowú (a.k.a. Xudzidaa) Ḵwáan, Brown Bear Fort (Burnt Wood Tribe) of the Hootchenoo from Aangóon which roughly translates in Łingít to "isthmus town" of Admiralty Island, Lingit Anni, Alaska.

Anisalaga's mother was Aanseet, Chief-of-All-Women, Drifted Ashore House and Chief Ebbets Andáa Neakoot/Nenkoot, Teikweidi Shaanax Hit, Valley House, Taanta Kwaan, was her father.

The Chief Ebbets Pole (the Dogfish Kootéeyaa Pole) was erected in 1892 in Old Tongass Village for her father then moved, re-carved and re-painted at Saxman Totem Park in 1938. An RFP went out in early 2022 to have this pole re-carved. 

​Anisalaga's mother, Aanseet drowned on the Nass River in 1870. Two memorial poles were raised in her honour — one in Old Tongass Village, Alaska, Princess-Shining-Copper (that was stolen and taken to Seattle to stand in Pioneer Square) and one in Tsaxis, Fort Rupert, raised by Anisalaga to overlook Beaver Harbour.

I grew up a few hundred feet away, just up the hill and less than 20 steps from Anisalaga's grave. My father (through whom I get my Tlingit Kwakiutl blood) moved my Norwegian mother here when they left the float camps up the coast. I played on the hillside with my sister, walking in our ancestor's footsteps.

Anisalaga's childhood would have been much harder. She had five siblings, Yaashút' (her brother who died in 1876), her sister Gaachnéin who married Kucheesh III, her sister Abbie (Atk'géigee) who married W. H. Bond, her brother Keenanúk who married Xanséek and her sister Kéilsháawat who married Xaashgáaksh II.

At the time of her birth in 1823, life was very different in Tongass, Lingit Anni, now Alaska. The Russians still controlled much of the coast and had not yet negotiated its sale to the USA. Anisalaga was a skilled weaver from a long line of Chilkat master weavers — some originally Tsimshian of Wrangel now family through marriage.

When she was fourteen, she was put in seclusion according to Lingit tradition. A painter was engaged to create a Naaxein pattern board behind where she worked. A female elder described the figures as Anisalaga wove them into her own Naaxein/naaxiin. 

They might be a Raven/Yéil with a pronounced beak, paired on each side, the Killer Whale/Dakl'aweidi/Kéet underneath and a Grizzly-Bear/Xóots in the centre with faces of other bears to illustrate the Bear Mother story or include other designs — but always with a central family crest figure showcased for when the robe was danced.

​She was taught to prepare all of the materials for weaving — gathering cedar bark, gathering and dyeing of mountain goat wool with bark, lignite, wolf moss Evernia vulpina and copper.

Over the years, she grew famous for her Chilkat weavings — an art the evokes the smell of smoke, the beating of the drum, the shared singsong voices of the Winter dances. She guarded her Chilkat learnings closely but shared with family. She worked in yellow, turquoise, black and white — including an abstract design in the bottom corner that is her kwéiy/signature.

​Her Chilkat weaving, now famous, were photographed by Edward Curtis and Franz Boas, the father of ethnography, who worked with her and her children, particularly her first son George Hunt.

Anisalaga married Robert Hunt at Fort Simpson at Lax-Kw'alaams on the Nass River. They lived in the north then relocated to Fort Rupert where they had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons. Mary wove a Naaxein Chilkat blanket for each of their children. 

Their second son, William, married Annie Wilson, Kwakiutl, Smoke of the World, and together they had (Robert) Vivian Hunt, my great grandfather. The Chilkat you see my grandmother Betty dancing comes from William to Vivian to her. Its sister blanket, woven for George and William's little sister, Jane Charity, is held in collections at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. 

​Anisalaga brought Tlingit songs, stories and the Chilkat weaving tradition from the north to the coast. Through the Ravens of Tongass, her marriage and her move to Fort Rupert she brought Kyinanuk totem pole carving traditions to both Tsaxis, Fort Rupert and Namgis First Nation cousins in Alert Bay — influencing the use of the Thunderbird, the Raven, the Sun, Ts'o'noqoa, Sisiutl and Sea Lion.

A replica of Anisalaga's (du tláa/abas) mother's Princess-Shining-Copper Tongass Kootéeyaa pole — erected on her mother's grave at Tongass, Lingit Anni, now southern Alaska — was raised in Tsaxis, Fort Rupert as a visual symbol that the Hunt family equally honoured both Tlingit and Kwakwaka'wakw. North and South had found their peace.   

The Hunts you meet on the west coast are her descendants and my family. In 1992, Uncle Hutch Hunt, Auntie Gloria, Uncle Bill Hunt, Irene Hayman, cousins Lily Alfred, Leslie Hunt, and Corrine Hunt along with Wayne Alfred Hunt & William Wasden went to Ketchikan to visit Chief Shakes IX, Jonathan DeWitt (Uncle Cookie), younger brother of Charlie DeWitt. They enjoyed a feast at the home of Forestt DeWitt. 

​Many potlatches/ku.éex' have been held to gather the descendants of Anisalaga & Robert Hunt — now more than 1,200 hundred strong. Our beautiful cousins from the north, including Chris Makua and J.K. Samuels and his sister Louise, joined us for those feasts.  We held a potlatch and pole raising in 2013 in Tsaxis, Fort Rupert to honour Anisalaga, our All-Mother.  

Photo: The photo was taken by Agnes Hunt Cranmer. She was the first of our family to have a camera & so became the designated photographer. 

Wednesday, 27 May 2020


These delightfully friendly and super smart fellows are Bottlenose dolphins. They are marine mammals who live in our world's oceans and breathe air at the surface, similar to humans.

They have lungs, inhaling and exhaling through a blowhole at the top of their heads instead of a through their nose.

Dolphins are social mammals and very playful. You may have seen them playing in the water, chasing boats or frolicking with one another. Humpback whales are fond of them and you'll sometimes see them hanging out together. They are also quite vocal, making a lot of interesting noises in the water. They squeak, squawk and use body language — leaping from the water while snapping their jaws and slapping their tails on the surface. They love to blow bubbles, will swim right up to you for a kiss and cuddle. Each individual dolphin has a signature sound, a whistle that is uniquely theirs. Dolphins use this whistle to tell one of their friends and family members from another.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Young Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus
The lovely fellow you see here is a young Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, with a wee dusting of barnacles and his mouth ajar just enough to show his baleen.

Two Pacific Ocean populations are known to exist: one of about 200 individuals whose migratory route is presumed to be between the Sea of Okhotsk off Russia's south coast and southern Korea, and a larger one with a population of about 27,000 individuals in the eastern Pacific.

This second group are the ones we see off the shores of British Columbia as they travel the waters from northernmost Alaska down to Baja California. Gray whale mothers make this journey accompanied by their calves, hugging the shore in shallow kelp beds and providing rare but welcome glimpses of this beauty.

The gray whale is traditionally placed as the only living species in its genus and family, Eschrichtius and Eschrichtiidae, but an extinct species was discovered and placed in the genus in 2017 — the Akishima whale, E. akishimaensis. Some recent DNA analyses suggest that certain rorquals of the family Balaenopteridae, such as the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, and fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus, are more closely related to the gray whale than they are to some other rorquals, such as minke. Still, others place gray whales as outside the rorqual clade, a kissing cousin if you will.

John Edward Gray placed it in its own genus in 1865, naming it in honour of physician and zoologist Daniel Frederik Eschricht. The common name of the whale comes from its colouration. The subfossil remains of now-extinct gray whales from the Atlantic coasts of England and Sweden were used by Gray to make the first scientific description of a species then surviving only in Pacific waters. The living Pacific species was described by American palaeontologist, Edward Drinker Cope as Rhachianectes glaucus in 1869.

Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus
Skeletal comparisons showed the Pacific species to be identical to the Atlantic remains in the 1930s, and Gray's naming has been generally accepted since. Although identity between the Atlantic and Pacific populations cannot be proven by anatomical data, its skeleton is distinctive and easy to distinguish from that of all other living whales.

In 1993, a twenty-seven million-year-old specimen was discovered in deposits in Washington state that represents a new species of early baleen whale. It is especially interesting as it is from a stage in the group’s evolutionary history when baleen whales transitioned from having teeth to filtering food with baleen bristles.

Visiting researcher Carlos Mauricio Peredo studied the fossil whale remains, publishing his research to solidify Sitsqwayk cornishorum (pronounced sits-quake) in the annals of history. The earliest baleen whales clearly had teeth, and clearly still used them. Modern baleen whales have no teeth and have instead evolved baleen plates for filter feeding. Look to the rather good close-up of this young Gray Whale here to see his baleen where once there was a toothy grin.

The baleen is the comb-like strainer that sits on the upper jaw of baleen whales and is used to filter food. We have to ponder when this evolutionary change —moving from teeth to baleen — occurred and what factors might have caused it. Traditionally, we have sought answers about the evolution of baleen whales by turning to two extinct groups: the aetiocetids and the eomysticetids.

The aetiocetids are small baleen whales that still have teeth, but they are very small, and it remains uncertain whether or not they used their teeth. In contrast, the eomysticetids are about the size of an adult Minke Whale and seem to have been much more akin to modern baleen whales; though it’s not certain if they had baleen. Baleen typically does not preserve in the fossil record being soft tissue; generally, only hard tissue, bones and teeth are fossilized.

Sunday, 24 May 2020


We can trace the lineage of barnacles back to the Middle Cambrian. That's half a billion years of data to sift through. But if you divide that timeline in half yet again, we begin to understand barnacles and their relationship to other sea-dwelling creatures and their migration patterns.

It is through the study of fossil barnacles that are roughly 270,000 million years old that help track ancient whale migrations. University of California Berkeley doctoral student Larry Taylor, the lead author of the study, published March 25, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published on some clever findings. 

Taylor's research showed used fossil barnacles that hitched a ride on the backs of humpback and gray whales to reconstruct the migrations of whale populations millions of years ago.

The barnacles not only record details about the whales’ yearly travels but also retain this information after they become fossilized. By following this barnacle trail, Taylor et al. were able to reconstruct migration routes of whales from millions of years in the past.

Today, Humpback whales come from both the Southern Hemisphere (July to October with over 2,000 whales) and the Northern Hemisphere (December to March about 450 whales along Central America) to Panama (and Costa Rica). They undertake annual migrations from polar summer feeding grounds to winter calving and nursery grounds in subtropical and tropical coastal waters.

One surprise find is that the coast of Panama has been a meeting ground for humpback whales going back at least 270,000 years.

To see how the barnacles have travelled through the migration routes of ancient whales, the team used oxygen isotope ratios in barnacle shells and measured how they changed over time with ocean conditions. Did the whale migrate to warmer breeding grounds or colder feeding grounds? Barnacles retain this information even after they fall off the whale, sink to the ocean bottom, and become fossils. As a result, the travels of fossilized barnacles can serve as a proxy for the journeys of whales in the distant past.

Barnacles can play an important role in estimating paleo-water depths. The degree of disarticulation of fossils suggests the distance they have been transported, and since many species have narrow ranges of water depths, it can be assumed that the animals lived in shallow water and broke up as they were washed down-slope. The completeness of fossils, and nature of the damage, can thus be used to constrain the tectonic history of regions.

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, barnacles are known as k̕wit̕a̱'a and broken barnacle shells are known as t̕sut̕su'ma.

Friday, 22 May 2020


I had always grouped the dugongs and manatees together. There are slight differences between these two groups. Both groups belong to the order Sirenia.

They shared a cousin in the Steller's sea cow, Hydrodamalis gigas, but that piece of their lineage was hunted to extinction by our species in the 18th century. Dugongs have tail flukes with pointed tips and manatees have paddle-shaped tails, similar to a Canadian Beaver.

Both of these lovelies from the order Sirenia went from terrestrial to marine, taking to the water in search of more prosperous pastures, as it were. They are the extant and extinct forms of the oddball manatees and dugongs.

We find dugongs today in waters near northern Australia and parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They inhabit rivers and shallow coastal waters, making the best use of their fusiform bodies that lack dorsal fins and hind limbs. I have been thinking about them in the context of some of the primitive armoured fish we find in the Chengjiang biota of China, specifically those primitive species that were also fusiform.

They favour locations where seagrass, their food of choice, grows plentiful and they eat it roots and all. While seagrass low in fibre, high in nitrogen, and easily digestible is preferred, dugongs will also dine on lower grade seagrass, algae, and invertebrates should the opportunity arise. They've been known to eat jellyfish, sea squirts, and shellfish over the course of their long lives. Some of the oldest dugongs have been known to live 70+ years, which is another statistic I find surprising. They are large, passive, have poor eyesight, and look pretty tasty floating in the water; a defenceless floating buffet. Their population is in decline and yet they live on.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020


Corals are marine invertebrates within the class Anthozoa of the phylum Cnidaria. They typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps.

Corals are important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.

A coral "group" is a colony of a myriad of genetically identical polyps. Each polyp is a sac-like animal typically only a few millimetres in diameter and a few centimetres in length. A set of tentacles surround a central mouth opening. Each polyp excretes an exoskeleton near the base. Over many generations, the colony thus creates a skeleton characteristic of the species which can measure up to several meters in size. Individual colonies grow by asexual reproduction of polyps. Corals also breed sexually by spawning: polyps of the same species release gametes simultaneously overnight, often around a full moon. Fertilized eggs form planulae, a mobile early form of the coral polyp which when mature settles to form a new colony.

Although some corals are able to catch plankton and small fish using stinging cells on their tentacles, most corals obtain the majority of their energy and nutrients from photosynthetic unicellular dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium that live within their tissues. These are commonly known as zooxanthellae and gives the coral colour. Such corals require sunlight and grow in clear, shallow water, typically at depths less than 60 metres (200 ft). Corals are major contributors to the physical structure of the coral reefs that develop in tropical and subtropical waters, such as the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. These corals are increasingly at risk of bleaching events where polyps expel the zooxanthellae in response to stress such as high water temperature or toxins.

Other corals do not rely on zooxanthellae and can live globally in much deeper water, such as the cold-water genus Lophelia which can survive as deep as 3,300 metres (10,800 ft). Some have been found as far north as the Darwin Mounds, northwest of Cape Wrath, Scotland, and others off the coast of Washington State and the Aleutian Islands.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020


If you take a peek at this well-preserved fossilized crab, you can see the back section of his carapace composed of highly mineralized chitin.

Chitin is a polysaccharide — a large molecule made of many smaller monosaccharides or simple sugars, like glucose. It's handy stuff, forming crystalline nanofibrils or whiskers.

Chitin is actually the second most abundant polysaccharide after cellulose. It's interesting as we usually think of these molecules in the context of their sugary context but they build many other very useful things in nature — not the least of these are the hard outer shells or exoskeletons of our crustacean friends. There have been some wonderful studies published of late on the cuticular structure of crabs and in particular the Late Maastrichtian crab, Costacopluma mexicana, from deposits near the town of from near Paredón, Ramos Arizpe in what is now southern Coahuila (formerly Coahuila de Zaragoza), in north-eastern Mexico. We see this same species in the Upper Cretaceous Moyenne of Northeast Morocco and from the Pacific slope, Paleocene of California, USA. This beauty is in the collection of José F. Ventura‎.

While the crustacean cuticle has been the subject of study for over 250 years (Reaumur, 1712, in Drach, 1939), the focus of that early work has been the process of moulting. Because crabs and other crustaceans have a hard outer shell (the exoskeleton) that does not grow, they must shed their shells through a process called moulting. Just as we outgrow our shoes, crabs outgrow their shells.

In 1984, Roer and Dillaman took a whole new approach, instead looking at the exoskeleton as a mineralized tissue. The integument of decapod crustaceans consists of an outer epicuticle, an exocuticle, an endocuticle and an inner membranous layer underlain by the hypodermis. The outer three layers of the cuticle are calcified.

The mineral is in the form of calcite crystals and amorphous calcium carbonate. In the epicuticle, the mineral is in the form of spherulitic calcite islands surrounded by the lipid-protein matrix. In the exo- and endo-cuticles the calcite crystal aggregates are interspersed with chitin-protein fibres which are organized in lamellae. In some species, the organization of the mineral mirrors that of the organic fibres, but such is not the case in certain cuticular regions in the xanthid crabs.

Control of crystal organization is a complex phenomenon unrelated to the gross morphology of the matrix. Since the cuticle is periodically moulted to allow for growth, this necessitates a bidirectional movement of calcium into the cuticle during post-moult and out during premolt resorption of the cuticle.

These movements are accomplished by active transport affected by a Ca-ATPase and Na/Ca exchange mechanism. The epi- and exo-cuticular layers of the new cuticle are elaborated during pre-moult but do not calcify until the old cuticle is shed. This phenomenon also occurs in vitro in the cuticle devoid of living tissue and implies an alteration of the nucleating sites of the cuticle in the course of the moult.

We're still learning about the relationship between the mineral and the organic components of the cuticle, both regarding the determination of crystal morphology and about nucleation. While the Portunidae offers some knowledge of the mechanisms and pathways for calcium movement, we know nothing concerning the transport of carbonate. These latter areas of investigation will prove fertile ground for future work; work which will provide information not only on the physiology of Crustacea but also on the basic principles of mineralization. I'm interested to see what insights will be revealed in the years to come. Certainly, the bidirectional nature of mineral transport and the sharp temporal transitions in the nucleating ability of the cuticular matrix provide ideal systems in which to study these aspects of calcification.

Torrey Nyborg, Francisco J. Vega and Harry F. Filkorn, Boletín de la Sociedad Geológica Mexicana, Vol. 61, No. 2, Número especial XI Congreso Nacional de Paleontología, Juriquilla 2009 (2009), pp. 203-209. Coahuila paleo coordinates:25°32′26″N 100°57′2″W

Monday, 18 May 2020


Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the Phyllum Arthopoda. They inhabit all the world's oceans, many of our freshwater lakes and streams, and a call a few places on land home.

Crabs build their shells from highly mineralized chitin. Chitin gets around. It is the main structural component of the exoskeletons of many of our crustacean and insect friends. Shrimp, crab, and lobster all use it to build their exoskeletons.

Chitin is a polysaccharide — a large molecule made of many smaller monosaccharides or simple sugars, like glucose. It's handy stuff, forming crystalline nanofibrils or whiskers. Chitin is actually the second most abundant polysaccharide after cellulose. It's interesting as we usually think of these molecules in the context of their sugary context but they build many other very useful things in nature — not the least of these are the hard shells or exoskeletons of our crustacean friends.

Sunday, 17 May 2020


If you happen to be swimming in the warm, shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific region, you may encounter one of the most charming of all the sea stars, Protoeaster nodosus.

These beauties are commonly known as Horned Sea Stars or, my personal favorite, Chocolate Chip Sea Stars.

They are part of the class Asteroidea (starfish or sea stars) one of the most diverse groups within the phylum Echinodermata and have a lengthy lineage in the fossil record stretching all the way back to the Triassic. These echinoderms make a living on near-shore sandy bottoms or lurk in the seagrass meadows of some of our most beautiful waters.

Chocolate Chip Sea Stars live in the waters off the Philippine Sea, off the coast of Australia and New Guinea. Their range extends to the Marshall Islands through central and southeastern Polynesia, past Easter Island and all the way up to Hawaii. Pretty much pick any of the top contenders for a warm, tropical vacation and they've beaten you to it!

This species of sea star has black rows of "horns" or "spines" meant to scare off predators. A noble deterrent for his fishy friends but I find this signature decoration rather fetching. These fellows like to graze on choice corals and sponges. They are also happy to make a meal of snails and bitter sea urchins when these ambrosial treats are presented. And they are social, both to mate, gathering in groups to aid in fertilization and acting as a softcover for shrimp, wee brittle stars and juvenile leatherjackets or filefish, who tuck in and enjoy the protective cover of those dark nodes.

Friday, 15 May 2020


South American Tapir, Tapirus terrestris
This little sweetie with his brown fur stripped and dotted with bits of white is a South American tapir, Tapirus terrestris.

He's a water baby and a relative of the rhinoceros. Tapir love the water. They play, swim, dive, and use it to protect themselves from predators.

Their feet are specially designed for swimming and walking on muddy shores. Each of their front feet has four splayed toes, a bit like having a fin or snowshoe on your feet. Their back feet have a similar design but with three toes. They nap and hide in the forest during the day and then head out at night to munch on leaves, shoots, fruit, and other green goodies in the Amazon Rainforest and the River Basin in South America, east of the Andes.

They can be found in Venezuela, Colombia, and the Guianas in the north to Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay in the south, to Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador in the west. Three species of Tapir call Columbia home and much of the scientific research is focussed on this area. They're also hiring if you'd like to get more involved. While many find them adorable, sadly, they are also appreciated for their beautiful coats. Their dwindling numbers are largely due to poaching for their meat and hide, as well as habitat destruction. If I had the means, I'd buy up a big chunk of land where they could roam free. Some folks are helping and you can, too. There is a Tapir Preservation Fund set-up to aid these cuties with additional habitat. I'll pop the link here so you can check them out. They have a Facebook page and on it, there is the sweetest video of a Tapir sitting in the waves watching the sunset. Do check it out. It's very sweet.

Tapir Specialist Group:
TSG Brazil: Rua Lindóia, 79046-150 Campo Grande, Brazil / +55 67 3344-0240

Thursday, 14 May 2020


Early Eocene Tapir from Driftwood Canyon
Driftwood Canyon in British Columbia is known for its beautiful early Eocene plants. It's not surprising to find wonderful wee mammals making a living in this warm, wet, steamy rainforest setting 51 million years ago.

Today, Driftwood Provincial Park is about halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert near the town of Smithers. The rocks that make up the strata here started out further to the south, riding geologic plates to their current location.

Along with the Tapir and a rather sweet hedgehog, we also find birds, insects, and a huge variety of fossil plants in these outcrops. Fossils of plant remains are rare but include up to 29 genera. The most common plant fossils found are leafy shoots of the dawn redwood, Metasequoia, and the floating fern Azolla primaeva as mats of plants or as isolated fossils.

Fossil fish from Driftwood Canyon in the Canadian Museum of Nature includes specimens collected in the 1930s; however, Driftwood Canyon fossils have only been studied since the 1950s.

The Driftwood Canyon fossil beds are best known for the abundant and well-preserved insect and fish fossils (Amia, Amyzon, and Eosalmo). The insects are particularly diverse and well preserved and include water striders (Gerridae), aphids (Aphididae), leafhoppers (Cicadellidae), green lacewings (Neuroptera), spittlebugs (Cercopidae), march flies (Bibionidae), scorpionflies (Mecoptera), fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae), snout beetles (Curculionidae), and ichneumon wasps.

A fossil species of green lacewing (Neuroptera, Chrysopidae) was recently named Pseudochrysopa harveyi to honour the founder of the park, Gordon Harvey. Fossil feathers are sometimes found and rare rodent bones are sometimes found in fish coprolites. Most recently, fossil palm beetles (Bruchidae) were described from the beds, confirming the presence of palms (Arecaceae) in the local environment in the early Eocene.

Alder, Alnus sp., still common today are also found, as well as the leaves or needles and seeds of pines, Pinus sp., the golden larch, Pseudolarix sp., cedars, Chamaecyparis and/or Thuja spp., redwood Sequoia sp., and rare Ginkgo and sassafras, Sassafras hesperia, leaves. A lovely permineralized pine cone Pinus driftwoodensis and associated 2-needle foliage were described from the site in the 1980s.

Rare flowers and the seeds of flowering plants have been collected, including Ulmus, Florissantia, and Dipteronia, a genus of trees related to maples, Acer. spp., that today grows in eastern Asia.

If you fancy a trip to Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, follow Driftwood Road from Provincial Highway 16. A car park just off the road access leads to an interpretive sign and a bridge across Driftwood Creek. A short interpretive trail leads visitors to a cliff-face exposure of Eocene shales. Signate speaks to how these beds were deposited in an inter-montane lake. Interbedded within the shales are volcanic ash beds, the result of area volcanoes that were erupting throughout the life of the Eocene lake that produced the shales.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020


Jen Becker, British Columbia Paleontological Alliance Field Trip
In the summer of 2005, I joined Jen Becker, and fellow delegates from the British Columbia Paleontological Symposium for an impromptu late-night tour of Wolverine River, one of many prolific research sites of Lisa Buckley, a vertebrate paleontologist working in the Tumbler Ridge area of British Columbia.

There are two types of footprints at the Wolverine River Trackside –theropods (at least four different sizes) and ankylosaurs. The prints featured in this photo were laid down by some lumbering ankylosaurs out for a stroll in soft mud. Many of the prints are so shallow that they can only be recognized by the skin impressions pressed into the mud. We'd been up to the fossil sites in the day but wanted to come back in the evening to see them by lamplight. After a lovely dinner, we hiked up to Wolverine in the dark. We filled the tracks with water and lit them with warm yellow lamplight. Some clever soul brought a sound system and played spooky animal calls to add prehistoric ambiance. A truly amazing evening.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Oxford University Museum of Natural History was established in 1860 to draw together scientific studies from across the University of Oxford.

On 30 June 1860, the Museum hosted a clash of ideologies that has become known as the Great Debate.

Even before the collections were fully installed, or the architectural decorations completed, the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its 30th annual meeting to mark the opening of the building, then known as the University Museum. 

It was at this event that Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Huxley, a biologist from London, went head-to-head in a debate about one of the most controversial ideas of the 19th century – Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

Notable collections include the world's first described dinosaur,  Megalosaurus bucklandii, and the world-famous Oxford Dodo, the only soft tissue remains of the extinct dodo. Although fossils from other areas have been assigned to the genus, the only certain remains of Megalosaurus come from Oxfordshire and date to the late Middle Jurassic. 

In 1824, Megalosaurus was the first genus of non-avian dinosaur to be validly named. The type species is Megalosaurus bucklandii, named in 1827.

In 1842, Megalosaurus was one of three genera on which Richard Owen based his Dinosauria. On Owen's direction, a model was made as one of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, which greatly increased the public interest for prehistoric reptiles. 

Subsequently, over fifty other species would be classified under the genus, originally because dinosaurs were not well known, but even during the 20th century after many dinosaurs had been discovered. 

Today it is understood these additional species were not directly related to M. bucklandii, which is the only true Megalosaurus species. Because a complete skeleton of it has never been found, much is still unclear about its build.

The Museum is as spectacular today as when it opened in 1860. As a striking example of Victorian neo-Gothic architecture, the building's style was strongly influenced by the ideas of 19th-century art critic John Ruskin. Ruskin believed that architecture should be shaped by the energies of the natural world, and thanks to his connections with a number of eminent Pre-Raphaelite artists, the Museum's design and decoration now stand as a prime example of the Pre-Raphaelite vision of science and art.

Monday, 11 May 2020


Heidi Henderson with Daniel & Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge
In 2000, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge.

As they walked up the shoreline excitement began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints.

Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area and the birth of the Peace Region Palaeontology Society and Dinosaur Centre.

The Hudson's Hope Museum has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthyosaurs, a few marine reptiles, and some hadrosaur tracks. The tracks the boys found were identified the following year by Rich McCrae as those of a large quadrupedal dinosaur, Tetrapodosaurus borealis, an ichnotaxon liked to ankylosaurs.

Closer study and excavation of the area yielded a 25 cm dinosaur bone thus doubling the number of dinosaur bones known from British Columbia at the time. The dinosaur finds near Tumbler Ridge are significant. Several thousand bone fragments have been collected, recorded, and now reside within the PRPRC collections, making for one of the most complete assemblages for dinosaur material from British Columbia. Some of these precious fossil sites were buried underwater by the Site C Dam, depending on your view. The Dam destroyed one of the world's precious wildlife corridors and submerge valuable carbon sinks and agricultural land therein threatening fossil sites and food security in the North.

We have many marine reptiles and can even brag the largest specimen of Shonisaurus. Dr. Betsy (Liz) Nicholls, Rolex Laureate Vertebrate Palaeontologist from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, excavated and published on an ichthyosaur from the Upper Triassic Pardonet Formation, Shonisaurus sikanniensis. This big fellow is estimated to have grown to 21 metres (69 FT) in length, making him the largest marine reptile on record. Liz excavated the type specimen of Shonisaurus sikanniensis over three field sessions in one of the most ambitious fossil excavations ever ventured. Her efforts from 1999 through 2001, both in the field and lobbying back at home, paid off. Betsy published on this new species in 2004, the culmination of her life’s work and her last paper as we lost her to cancer in autumn of that year.

The true reveal for the paleontological significance is still to come. There are Triassic marine outcrops in northern British Columbia that extend from Wapiti Lake to the Yukon border. I'm excited about the future of paleontology in the region as more of these fruitful outcrops are discovered, collected and studied.

Sunday, 10 May 2020


A rare and very beautifully preserved Cretaceous Hadrosaur Tooth. This lovely specimen is from one of our beloved herbivorous "Duck-Billed" dinosaurs from 68 million-year-old outcrops near Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, and is likely from an Edmontosaurus.

When you scour the badlands of southern Alberta, most of the dinosaur material you'll find are from hadrosaurs. These lovely tree-less valleys make for excellent-searching grounds and have led us to know more about hadrosaur anatomy, evolution, and paleobiology than for most other dinosaurs.

We have oodles of very tasty specimens and data to work with. We've got great skin impressions and scale patterns from at least ten species and interesting pathological specimens that provide valuable insights into hadrosaur behaviour. Locally, we have an excellent specimen you can visit in the Courtenay and District Museum on Vancouver Island, Canada. The first hadrosaur bones were found on Vancouver Island a few years back by Mike Trask, VIPS, on the Trent River near Courtenay.

The Courtenay hadrosaur is a first in British Columbia, but our sister province of Alberta has them en masse. Given the ideal collecting grounds, many of the papers on hadrosaurs focus on our Canadian finds. These herbivorous beauties are also found in Europe, South America, Mexico, Mongolia, China, and Russia. Hadrosaurs had teeth arranged in stacks designed for grinding and crushing, similar to how you might picture a cow munching away on the grass in a field. These complex rows of "dental batteries" contained up to 300 individual teeth in each jaw ramus. But even with this great number, we rarely see them as individual specimens.

They didn't appear to shed them all that often. Older teeth that are normally shed in our general understanding of vertebrate dentition, were resorped, meaning that their wee osteoclasts broke down the tooth tissue and reabsorbed the yummy minerals and calcium.

As the deeply awesome Mike Boyd notes, "this is an especially lucky find as hadrosaurs did not normally shed so much as a tooth, except as the result of an accident when feeding or after death. Typically, these fascinating dinosaurs ground away their teeth... almost to nothing."

In hadrosaurs, the root of the tooth formed part of the grinding surface as opposed to a crown covering over the core of the tooth. And curiously, they developed this dental arrangement from their embryonic state, through to hatchling then full adult.

There's some great research being done by Aaron LeBlanc, Robert R. Reisz, David C. Evans and Alida M. Bailleul. They published in BMC Evolutionary Biology on work that looks at the histology of hadrosaurid teeth analyzing them through cross-sections. Jon Tennant did a nice summary of their research. I've included both a link to the original journal article and Jon Tennant's blog below.

LeBlanc et al. are one of the first teams to look at the development of the tissues making up hadrosaur teeth, analyzing the tissue and growth series (like rings of a tree) to see just how these complex tooth batteries formed.

They undertook the first comprehensive, tissue-level study of dental ontogeny in hadrosaurids using several intact maxillary and dentary batteries and compared them to sections of other archosaurs and mammals. They used these comparisons to pinpoint shifts in the ancestral reptilian pattern of tooth ontogeny that allowed hadrosaurids to form complex dental batteries.


LeBlanc et al. (2016) Ontogeny reveals function and evolution of the hadrosaurid dinosaur dental battery, BMC Evolutionary Biology. 16:152, DOI 10.1186/s12862-016-0721-1 (OA link)

To read more from Jon Tennant, visit:

Photo credit: Derrick Kersey. For more awesome fossil photos like this from Derrick, visit his page:

Thursday, 7 May 2020


If fossil fuels are made from fossils, are oil, gas and coal made from dead dinosaurs? Well, no, but they are made from fossils. We do not heat our homes or run our cars on dead hadrosaurs. Instead, we burn very old plants and algae. 

It sounds much less exciting, but the process by which algae and other plant life soak up the Sun's energy, store it for millions of years, then give it all up for us to burn as fuel is a pretty fantastic tale.

Fossil fuel is formed by a natural process — the anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms. These plants and algae lived and died many millions of years ago, but while they lived, they soaked up and stored energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Picture ancient trees, algae and peat soaking up the sun, then storing that energy for us to use millions of years later. These organisms and their resulting fossil fuels are millions of years old, sometimes more than 650 million years. That's way back in the day when Earth's inhabitants were mostly viruses, bacteria and some early multi-cellular jelly-like critters.

Fossil fuels consist mainly of dead plants – coal from trees, and natural gas and oil from algae, a diverse group of aquatic photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms I like to think of as pond scum. These deposits are called fossil fuels because, like fossils, they are the remains of plants and animals that lived long ago.

If we could go back far enough, we'd find that our oil, gas, and coal deposits are really remnants of algal pools, peat bogs and ancient muddy swamps. Dead plants and algae accumulate and over time, the pressure turns the mud mixed with dead plants into rock. Geologists call the once-living matter in the rock kerogen. If they haven't been cooked too badly, we call them fossils.

Kerogen is the solid, insoluble organic matter in sedimentary rocks and it is made from a mixture of ancient organic matter. A bit of this tree and that algae all mixed together to form a black, sticky, oily rock. The Earth’s internal heat cooks the kerogen. The hotter it gets, the faster it becomes oil, gas, or coal. If the heat continues after the oil is formed, all the oil turns to gas. The oil and gas then seep through cracks in the rocks. Much of it is lost. We find oil and gas today because some happened to become trapped in porous, sponge-like rock layers capped by non-porous rocks. We tap into these the way you might crack into a bottle of olive oil sealed with wax.

Fossil fuel experts call this arrangement a reservoir and places like Alberta, Iran and Qatar are full of them. A petroleum reservoir or oil and gas reservoir is a subsurface pool of hydrocarbons contained in porous or fractured rock formations. Petroleum reservoirs are broadly classified as conventional and unconventional reservoirs. In the case of conventional reservoirs, the naturally occurring hydrocarbons, such as crude oil or natural gas, are trapped by overlying rock formations with lower permeability. In unconventional reservoirs, the rocks have high porosity and low permeability which keeps the hydrocarbons trapped in place, so these unconventional reservoirs don't need a rock cap.

Coal is an important form of fossil fuel. Much of the early geologic mapping of Canada — and other countries — was done for the sole purpose of mapping the coal seams. You can use it to heat your home, run a coal engine or sell it for cold hard cash. It's a dirty fuel, but for a very long time, most of our industries used it as the sole means of energy. But what is so bad about burning coal and other fossil fuels? Well, many things...

Burning fossil fuels, like oil and coal, releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. They get trapped as heat, which we call the greenhouse effect. This plays havoc with global weather patterns and our world does not do so well when that happens. 

The massive end-Permian extinction event, the worst natural disaster in Earth's history — when 90% of all life on Earth died —  was caused by massive volcanic eruptions that spewed gas and lava, covering the Earth in volcanic dust, then acid rain. Picture Mordor times ten. This wasn't a culling of the herd, this was full-on decimation. I'll spare you the details, but the whole thing ended poorly.

Dirty or no, coal is still pretty cool. It is wild to think that a lump of coal has the same number of atoms in it as the algae or material that formed it millions of years ago. Yep, all the same atoms, just heated and pressurized over time. When you burn a lump of coal, the same number of atoms are released when those atoms dissipate as particles of soot. You may wonder what makes a rock burn. It's not intuitive that it would be possible, and yet there it is. Coal is combustible, meaning it is able to catch fire and burn. Coal is made up mostly from carbon with some hydrogen, sulphur — which smells like rotting eggs — oxygen and nitrogen thrown in.

It is just that the long-ago rain forest was far less dense than the coal you hold in your hand today, and so is the soot into which it dissipates once burned. The energy was captured by the algal pool or rain forest by way of photosynthesis, then that same energy is released when the coal is burnt. So the energy captured in gravity and released billions of years later when the intrinsic gravity of the coal is dissipated by burning. It's enough to bend your brain.

The Sun loses mass all the time because of its process of fusion of atomic content and radiating that energy as light. Our ancient rain forests and algal pools on Earth captured some of it. So maybe our energy transformations between the Earth and the Sun could be seen more like ping-pong matches, with energy, as the ball, passing back and forth.

As mass sucks light in (hello, photosynthesis), it becomes denser, and as mass radiates light out (hello, heat from coal), it becomes less dense. Ying, yang and the beat goes on.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


A Devonian bony fish mortality plate showing a lower shield of Zenaspis podolica (Lankester, 1869) from Lower Devonian deposits of Podolia, Ukraine.

Podolia or Podilia is a historic region in Eastern Europe, located in the west-central and south-western parts of Ukraine, in northeastern Moldova. Podolia is the only region in Ukraine where 420 million-year-old remains of ichthyofauna can be found near the surface, making them accessible to collection and study. Zenaspis is an extinct genus of jawless fish which thrived during the early Devonian. Being jawless, Zenaspis was probably a bottom feeder, snicking on debris from the seafloor similar to how flounder, groupers, bass and other bottom-feeding fish make a living.

For the past 150 years, vertebrate fossils have been found in more than 90 localities situated in outcrops along banks of the Dniester River and its northern tributaries, and in sandstone quarries. At present, the faunal list of Early Devonian agnathans and fishes from Podolia number seventy-two species, including 8 Thelodonti, 39 Heterostraci, 19 Osteostraci, 4 Placodermi, 1 Acanthodii, and 1 Holocephali (Voichyshyn 2001a).

In Podolia, the Lower Devonian Redbeds strata (the Old Red Formation or Dniester Series) are 1800 metres thick and range from Lochkovian to Eifelian in age (Narbutas 1984; Drygant 2000, 2003).

In their lower part, the Ustechko and Khmeleva members of the Dniester Series, they consist of lovely multicoloured, mainly red, fine-grained cross-bedded massive quartz sandstones and siltstones with seams of argillites (Drygant 2000).

We see fossils of Zenaspis in the early Devonian of Western Europe. Both Zenaspis pagei and Zenaspis poweri can be found up to 25 centimetres long in Devonian outcrops of Scotland.

Reference: Voichyshyn, V. 2006. New osteostracans from the Lower Devonian terrigenous deposits of Podolia, Ukraine. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51 (1): 131–142. Photo care of the awesome Fossilero Fisherman.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020


Carcharocles chubutensis, which roughly translates to the "glorious shark of Chubut," from the ancient Greek is an extinct species of prehistoric mega-toothed sharks in the genus Carcharocles.

These big beasties lived during Oligocene to Miocene. This fellow is considered to be a close relative of the famous prehistoric mega-toothed shark, C. megalodon, although the classification of this species is still disputed.

Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz first identified this shark as a species of Carcharodon in 1843. In 1906, Ameghino renamed this shark as C. chubutensis. In 1964, shark researcher, L. S. Glikman recognized the transition of Otodus obliquus to C. auriculatus. In 1987, shark researcher, H. Cappetta reorganized the C. auriculatus - C. megalodon lineage and placed all related mega-toothed sharks along with this species in the genus Carcharocles.

At long last, the complete Otodus obliquus to C. megalodon progression began to look clear. Since then, C. chubutensis has been re-named into Otodus chubutensis, also the other chronospecies of the Otodus obliquus - O. megalodon lineage. Chubutensis appears at the frontier Upper Oligocene to Lowest Miocene (evolving from O. angustidens which has stronger side cusps) and turns into O. megalodon in the Lower to Middle Miocene, where the side cusps are already absent. Despite previous publications, there is no chubutensis in the Pliocene.

Victor Perez and his team published on the transition between Carcharocles chubutensis and Carcharocles megalodon (Otodontidae, Chondrichthyes): lateral cusplet loss through time in March of 2018. In their work, they look at the separation between all the teeth of Carcharocles chubutensis and Carcharocles megalodon and published that it is next to impossible to divide them up as a complex mosaic evolutionary continuum characterizes this transformation, particularly in the loss of lateral cusplets.

A modern shark after a tasty snack
The cuspleted and uncuspleted teeth of Carcharocles spp. are designated as chronomorphs because there is wide overlap between them both morphologically and chronologically.

In the lower Miocene Beds (Shattuck Zones) 2–9 of the Calvert Formation (representing approximately 3.2 million years, 20.2–17 Ma, Burdigalian) both cuspleted and uncuspleted teeth are present, but cuspleted teeth predominate, constituting approximately 87% of the Carcharocles spp. teeth represented in their samples.

In the middle Miocene Beds 10–16A of the Calvert Formation (representing approximately 2.4 million years, 16.4–14 Ma, Langhian), there is a steady increase in the proportion of uncuspleted Carcharocles teeth.

In the upper Miocene Beds 21–24 of the St. Marys Formation (approx. 2.8 million years, 10.4–7.6 Ma, Tortonian), lateral cusplets are nearly absent in Carcharocles teeth from our study area, with only a single specimen bearing lateral cusplets. The dental transition between Carcharocles chubutensis and Carcharocles megalodon occurs within the Miocene Chesapeake Group. Although their study helps to elucidate the timing of lateral cusplet loss in Carcharocles locally, the rationale for this prolonged evolutionary transition remains unclear.

The specimen you see here is in the Geological Museum in Lisbon. The photo credit goes to the deeply awesome Luis Lima who shared some wonderful photos of his recent visit to their collections.
If you'd like to read the paper from Perez, you can find it here:

Monday, 4 May 2020


The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The magnetic field of the Earth is surrounded by the magnetosphere that keeps most of the particles from the Sun from hitting the Earth.

Some of these particles from the solar wind enter the atmosphere at one million miles per hour. We see them as one of the most beautiful of all natural phenomena -- Earth's polar lights, the aurora borealis in the north and the aurora australis, near the south pole.

The auroras occur when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with elements in the Earth's atmosphere and become trapped in the Earth's magnetic field.

We see them as an undulating visual field of red, yellow, green, blue and purple dancing high in the Earth's atmosphere -- about 100 to 400 kilometers above us. This image shows the parts of the magnetosphere. 1. Bow shock. 2. Magnetosheath. 3. Magnetopause. 4. Magnetosphere. 5. Northern tail lobe. 6. Southern tail lobe. 7. Plasmasphere.

Photo credit: Magnetosphere_Levels.jpg: Dennis Gallagherderivative work: Frédéric MICHEL - Magnetosphere_Levels.jpg, Public Domain,

Sunday, 3 May 2020


Solar flares, sunlight, what are they actually? Yes, it's light from the Sun but so much more than that. Sunlight is both light and energy. Once it reaches Earth, we call this energy, "insolation," a fancy term for solar radiation. The amount of energy the Sun gives off changes over time in a never-ending cycle.

Solar flares (hotter) and sunspots (cooler) on the Sun's surface impact the amount of radiation headed to Earth. These periods of extra heat or extra cold (well, cold by Sun standards...) can last for weeks, sometimes months.

The beams that reach us and warm our skin are electromagnetic waves that bring with them heat and radiation, by-products of the nuclear fusion happening as hydrogen nuclei fuse and shift violently to form helium, a process that fires every star in the sky. Our bodies convert the ultraviolet rays to Vitamin D. Plants use the rays for photosynthesis, a process of converting carbon dioxide to sugar and using it to power their growth (and clean our atmosphere!) That process looks something like this: carbon dioxide + water + light energy — and glucose + oxygen = 6 CO2(g) + 6 H2O + photons → C6H12O6(aq) + 6 O2(g).

Photosynthetic organisms convert about 100–115 thousand million metric tonnes of carbon to biomass each year, about six times more power than used us mighty homo sapien sapiens. Our plants, forests and algae soak up this goodness and much later in time, we harvest this energy from fossil fuels.

We've yet to truly get a handle on the duality between light as waves and light as photons. The duality of the two-in-oneness of light; of their waves and alter-ego, particle photons is a physicists delight. Einstein formulated his special theory of relativity in part by thinking about what it would be like to ride around on these waves. What would space look and feel like? How would time occur? It bends the mind to consider. His wave-particle view helped us to understand that these seemingly different forms change when measured. To put this in plain English, they change when viewed, ie. you look them "in the eye" and they behave as you see them.

Light fills not just our wee bit of the Universe but the cosmos as well, bathing it in the form of cosmic background radiation that is the signature of the Big Bang and the many mini-big bangs of supernovae as they go through cycles of reincarnation and cataclysmic death — exploding outward and shining brighter than a billion stars.

In our solar system, once those electromagnetic waves leave the Sun headed for Earth, they reach us in a surprising eight minutes. We experience them as light mixed with the prism of beautiful colours. But what we see is actually a trick of the light. As rays of white sunlight travel through the atmosphere they collide with airborne particles and water droplets causing the rays to scatter.

We see mostly the yellow, orange and red hues (the longer wavelengths) as the blues and greens (the shorter wavelengths) scatter more easily and get bounced out of the game rather early.

Saturday, 2 May 2020


Deep inside the largest and deepest gold mine in North America scientists are looking for dark matter particles and neutrinos instead of precious metals. It may not seem exciting on the surface — but it was far below!

The Homestake Gold Mine in Lawrence County, South Dakota was a going concern from about 1876 to 2001.

The mine produced more than forty million troy ounces of gold in its one hundred and twenty-five-year history, dating back to the beginnings of the Black Hills Gold Rush.

To give its humble beginnings a bit of context, Homestake was started in the days of miners hauling loads of ore via horse and mule and the battles of the Great Sioux War. Folk moved about via horse-drawn buggies and Alexander Graham Bell had just made his first successful telephone call.

Wyatt Earp was working in Dodge City, Kansas — he had yet to get the heck outta Dodge — and Mark Twain was in the throes of publishing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  — And our dear Thomas Edison had just opened his first industrial research lab in Menlo Park. The mine is part of the Homestake Formation, an Early Proterozoic layer of iron carbonate and iron silicate that produces auriferous greenschist gold. What does all that geeky goodness mean? If you were a gold miner it would be music to your ears. They ground down that schist to get the glorious good stuff and made a tiny wee sum doing so. But then gold prices levelled off — from 1997 ($287.05) to 2001 ($276.50) — and rumblings from the owners started to grow. They bailed in 2001, ironically just before gold prices started up again.

But back to 2001, that levelling saw the owners look to a new source of revenue in an unusual place. One they had explored way back in the 1960s in a purpose-built underground laboratory that sounds more like something out of a science fiction book. The brainchild of chemist and astrophysicists, John Bahcall and Raymond Davis Jr. from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, the laboratory was used to observe solar neutrinos, electron neutrinos produced by the Sun as a product of nuclear fusion.

Davis had the ingenious idea to use 100,000 gallons of dry-cleaning solvent, tetrachloroethylene, with the notion that neutrinos headed to Earth from the Sun would pass through most matter but on very rare occasions would hit a chlorine-37 atom head-on turning it to argon-37. His experiment was a general success, detecting electron neutrinos,  though his technique failed to sense two-thirds of the number predicted. In particle physics, neutrinos come in three types: electron, muon and tau. Think yellow, green, blue. What Davis had failed to initially predict was the neutrino oscillation en route to Earth that altered one form of neutrino into another. Blue becomes green, yellow becomes blue... He did eventually correct this wee error and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002 for his efforts.

Though Davis’ experiments were working, miners at Homestake continued to dig deep for ore in the belly of the Black Hills of western South Dakota for almost another forty years. As gold prices levelled out and ore quality dropped the idea began to float to re-purpose the mine as a potential site for a new Deep Underground Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL).

A pitch was made and the National Science Foundation awarded the contract to Homestake in 2007.  The mine is now home to the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) using DUSEL and Large Underground Xenon to look at both neutrinos and dark particle matter. It is a wonderful re-purposing of the site and one that few could ever have predicted. Well done, Homestake. The future of the site is a gracious homage to the now deceased Davis. He would likely be delighted to know that his work continues at Homestake and our exploration of the Universe with it.