The final group of intrepid scientists in this troupe is focusing its efforts on investigating the morphology of each specimen. Chantell Bury, Paige Madison, Jasmine Croghan and I (Jordan Drost) have spent the last few weeks at the end of a nonstop assembly line of fossilized eggs. Morphology is, put simply, the study of the physical features of an object (in this case, fossil eggs). Now, this sounds simple enough; after all, how many physical characteristics can an egg sport, right? Wrong… well, sort of. It turns out that eggs, like people, have a rather annoying propensity for unique personalities. Essentially, no two eggs are the same. That’s where we come in.
On a daily basis, we go through each egg and observe and catalogue each and every physical detail in a table we set up for the purposes of making said cataloguing a little more straight forward. When we started, we figured it would all be pretty straight forward, but we quickly discovered that we’d underestimated our opponents. To start, we measure each egg (length, width, and height) and try to provide a general description as to the egg’s symmetry and shape (spherical, oblong, oblate-aka: flat). Unfortunately, eggs don’t fossilize without a fight and a lot of them have taken on some pretty bizarre shapes. Have you ever tried to determine the dimensions of warped doughnut?
Next, we go through and take shell thickness measurements, add them all up and average them. Given that the eggshells are usually never more than a few fractions of an inch thick, things get sticky and when an egg decides it’s going to have a shell with different thicknesses all the way around, it gets even more weird. We also have to check out the texture on the surface of the egg. To the naked eye, the shell looks like a black field with a bunch of little pale spots, but under a microscope they look like Scottish highlands with lochs and fields and flocks of sheep… SO MANY SHEEP! Color, too, is an important feature and you’d be surprised at what a spectrum of color you see under that microscope.
Nests are usually synonymous with eggs, but are a lot more difficult to preserve than the eggs themselves. Nevertheless, we keep an eye out for anything grossly resembling a nest, which is a backhanded way of saying we scrutinize how close the eggs sit to one another and how they stack up, kind of like chaperones at a middle school dance.
And finally, when all of that is done, we go through and in as few words as are humanly possible describe anything odd or interesting about the way the eggs look. We try to observe the way the shells break, the way they deform, the size of the pieces of shell and how they sit on the egg, how much of the egg is still intact, the orientation of the egg, the way it relates to the rocks that cover it… the list goes on.
The most exciting part of all of this (arduous as the process may sound) is seeing the patterns that begin to emerge. As different as every egg is, they all share some characteristics that we’ve been seeing over and over and it’s those characteristics that paint a picture of how these eggs got to where they are today. Additionally, this information (in concert with the information from the Sedimentology and Taphonomy groups) is sparking our imagination with ideas of where to go next and what we need to study. Our minds are just abuzz with exciting new possibilities!