Practical Joke Backfires
(Careful!  Paleobotanists only have eyes for leaves...)
It could be said that paleontologists have a twisted sense of humor.  All we have found at the Castle Rock Fossil Rainforest is lots of leaves, branches and tree trunks.  So, I thought it would be fun to play a little joke by bringing a tooth to the quarries.  So, on 12/10/2002, I brought a tooth of Pleistocene cave bear from the Ural Mountains of Siberia, Russia (Ursus uralensis) to Castle Rock.  In the end, the joke was on me!

I secretly placed the tooth in the quarry right were Regan Dunn was digging.  I sat back and laughed to myself as I watched Regan working near the tooth.  However, after recovering a few beautiful leaf specimens, she brushed the tooth off into the pile of rubble.  So much for that attempt!

I quickly retrieved the cave bear tooth and thought I would try it on Michele Reynolds.  I placed the tooth right on top of the layers she was working on and covered it with two thin pieces of rock.  Michele was gluing some fossil leaves.  Then, she proceeded to wrap and box some.  I was distracted by the delay and began wrapping some of my own finds... until I saw a pick ax out of the corner of my eye.  It was Michele and her swing struck the tooth squarely!  Pieces of rock flew and before I could say anything, she used a hoe scrape the debris into the pile.  I quickly and nonchalantly went to the debris pile.  After about 5 minutes, I found the tooth.  Well, actually, I found half of the tooth.  Michele's swing at landed precisely on the tooth.  All I found was half of the tooth.  At this point, I was beginning to realize that the joke was on me.  I tried to remind myself that I have six other cave bear teeth and this one was the most poorly preserved, but I still had a sinking feeling for putting the tooth 'in harm's way'.

"Before" image
(Ursus uralensis tooth)

"After" image
(Ursus uralensis tooth)
I decided to try the joke on Regan again.  She was sitting right next to her digging area, so I had to be creative.  I walked over and faked interest in the sedimentology above her work.  I dropped the tooth about 6 feet above her.  It tumbled down the slope as planned and landed precisely on the leaf layer she was working on.  I chuckled as I gradually stepped back and waited for Regan to find the tooth.  However, after she placed her leaf in the box, she immediately swept off her working area and the half tooth was once again in the debris pile!  I couldn't believe it!  Do paleobotanists only have eyes for leaves?!  After brushing off her working area, she sat directly on top of the small pile and the tooth.  To recover it, I had to let Regan in on my joke.  I quietly told her of my joke and we both searched for the tooth.  She told me that she would have been completely shocked to find the cave bear tooth in the quarry.

After finding the tooth once again, I decided to try the joke on Michele again.  This time, I did not cover the tooth at all.  I left it in plain view directly where Michele had been working.  The only problem was that Michele quit digging and began gluing and wrapping fossil leaves.  I waited for over an hour for Michele to continue digging, but she never did.

Exasperated, I decided to place the tooth directly on the flat surface directly between Beth Ellis and Michele Reynolds.  They were both wrapping fossils and had several boxes near them.  With a well placed toss, the tooth landed right between them in plain site.  I waited patiently while they wrapped leaves, expecting they would find the tooth at any minute.  Did they?  NO!  After wrapping and labeling all the fossils in one box, Beth pulled the another box closer to her, right on top of the tooth!  I had just found another nice specimen.  I walked over and placed it in the box.  I faked curiosity over the fossils in her box and pulled it towards me, once again revealing the tooth.  When I pushed the box back towards her, I made sure that it pushed the tooth even closer to her.  Then, I went back to digging.

In the end, Beth finally found the tooth.  But, instead of the surprise I had intended, she simply said, "O.K.  Who put this tooth here for me to find and how long has it been sitting here."  What a letdown!  The practical joke had completely backfired.  But, does that deter me from more practical jokes in the future?  Absolutely not!  So, if I'm in the quarry, have a little skepticism on your finds.  You never know what you may discover!
[Created 12/15/2002]
[Last Updated: n/a]