Don's Diary

August 18, 2000

Sunday. Finish packing field gear into a very clean hire car - hope they will be understanding. Say goodbye to family at home. Return to the Yorkshire Museum and meet first half of field team. Hopefully, a complete Jurassic ichthyo-saur fossil awaits our attention.

Monday. A full English breakfast and the sun greet us in a quarry near Whitby. Seagulls make first strike on car. Excavation team is enthusiastic. Arrive on site to find BBC got there first, they seem keen. Brian Foster, finder of the ichthyosaur, greets us with "Well I hope it's there". Get onto site and the heavens open, long live our British summer. Start excavating late in the afternoon. It looks like there is more bone below surface: BBC crew grin, Brian and I sigh with relief.

Tuesday. Seagulls like my hire car. Arrive at site. The ichthyosaur, a marine reptile, is larger than we estimated. The skull block weighs half a ton and crushes our sack-trolley. The distance to the top of the cliff seems to have increased. A plan B is rapidly formulated. Team continues to expose the skeleton, which is 4.5m long. Five to seven tons of rock to shift. The whole team is exhausted.

Wednesday. Weather improving, sunscreen factor 25 applied. Stomach contents found in the gut region reveal fish and squid were its last meal. Coastguard offers a winch. Eight of us struggle with long-deceased load to base of cliff, but we decide not to risk their new winch. The site is expanding. Large number of bones uncovered, some never seen before in Yorkshire. Return to hotel late in evening after Bristol crew has mapped position of skeleton.

Thursday. Smell in car but no sign of source. BBC camera crew donate their marquee to protect site. A gasp of delight from the ichthyosaur's rear. "This is special," says Brian, picking around a fist-sized bone. The pelvis is complete, which will help ident-ify the ichthyosaur group to which the animal belonged. Ichthyosaur is given a protective plaster field jacket. Rumour of a winch and abseiling team for Friday raises hopes for successful removal of skull.

Friday. Rotting melon is source of smell in car boot. Winching team arrive. Try removing tip of little finger with chisel, feeling tired. Field jacket successfully turned over, backbone cradled within heavy white mass. Takes six of us to lift field jacket up cliff. Ramblers on cliff look confused by our load. Winching team get first load to top of cliff. BBC leave happy, they do not need to see us complete the job. Last load arrives safely at 20:30 hours. Ichthyosaur taken to preparatory laboratory. Ecstatic but exhausted team departs after cold beer. Here endeth another day at the office.

Saturday. Phone will not stop ringing. BBC press engine has obviously kicked in with a vengeance. Children help to drag field equipment back into garage.

Phil Manning is keeper of geology at the Yorkshire Museum, York.

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