February 14, 2016
Part of the team (Eric Roberts, Matt Lamanna, Julia Clarke, and Pat O’Connor) went down to Robertson Island. The weather was perfect. We flew out over the ice in our first helicopter flight with pilot Jim. Seals scampered across large bergs far below us leaving striking tracks. The helo landing was smooth and the outcrop was impressive–a tiny piece of earth exposed on an ice covered island.
The whole group collected abundant invertebrates while Roberts focused on the geologic context. The first thing we saw when prospecting were abundant weathered penguin feathers (not fossil). Mostly, contour feathers, they seemed to have been moulted. Trace fossils were especially common.
Near the end of the day we ended up on the top of the bluff. I hiked out far to the north along the edge of the glacier that covered most of the island. About 20 m out, a tiny differntly-colored object glinted slightly. It turned the end of a harpoon-shaped metal point. It was apparently quite old. The tip was somewhat blunted by design.
I started researching the history of Robertson Island as much as I could with limited resources shipboard that evening.
In 1893, Carl Larsen (of the Larsen ice sheets) named Robertson after supposedly ascending to the top of the volcano to verify its island status. He is supposed to have skied down the glacier–apparently the first ski trip in Antarctica!
I’m facinated that I might have found a tiny piece of anarctic exploration history. Perhaps a flag planted high on the glacier during that trip? Much-weathered wood is preserved in the hollow base of the point and we might be able to carbon date. In another tie-in to our current trip, Larsen’s expedition reported the first fossils from Seymour Island.
Julia Clarke is a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist who studies birds and theropod dinosaurs. The lead principal investigator and project director of the AP3: Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project is Matt Lamanna. Matt and his team of researchers blog frequently from the field at antarticdinos.org.