Amateur Casting Activities damaging to Tumbler Ridge Dinosaur Track Sites
For Immediate Release
Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation
Box 1348 Tumbler Ridge, BC V0C 2W0
Contact: Dr Charles Helm, Vice President – 250 242
May 31, 2007
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints" is a well-known mantra for enjoying the outdoors but, for some people, pictures are not enough. They want the footprints, specifically the dinosaur footprints. The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation (TRMF) offers summer tours to two dinosaur track sites that are well known in the region: the Wolverine Track Site, where night-time lantern tours are offered, and the Cabin Pool site on Flatbed Creek, where footprints of ankylosaurs (armoured dinosaurs) and theropods (carnivorous dinosaurs) can be found. The TRMF produces a souvenir track replica that also supports fundraising activities.
Now that the snow is melted and the tracks are exposed, some individuals have started making their own track replicas as souvenirs. While these individuals are not stealing the tracks, their activities are still destructive. The track casting process used by these individuals is an out-of-date technique that involves pouring Plaster of Paris directly into the footprint after applying a chemical separator to the footprint surface, such as petroleum jelly. This technique has not been used by palaeontologists for many years because of the damage it causes to footprints. The petroleum jelly does not come off of the track with the plaster, but remains behind as a slimy residue. Plaster soaks into porous surfaces such as rock, and any surface on the footprint that is exposed will absorb plaster like a sponge and cannot be removed.
The footprints at the Cabin Pool site are deeply impressed and have many overhanging edges which are broken off when the cast is removed from the track. These three factors will speed up the natural erosion of the track surface. While the track casting method employed by the caster(s) is good for making copies of modern animal tracks, it is ill-suited for use on fossil trackways.
Lisa Buckley, Collections Manager of the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre (P.R.P.R.C.), explains: “Palaeontologists make fossil replicas as part of their research activities. However, our first priority is to protect and preserve the fossil heritage of British Columbia. We keep up-to-date with the latest moulding and casting techniques and use museum-grade, low impact materials to minimize damage to the fossils. These materials are quite expensive, but to use archaic procedures and materials of lesser quality is irresponsible. Over time these footprints will erode naturally, but it is our responsibility to ensure that this process is not accelerated.”
Not only does this process damage the footprints, but the caster(s) left behind a very obvious record of their activities. There is a clear path of plaster drips on the track surface connecting the footprints that were cast. Chunks of broken plaster lay scattered on the edge of the track surface and around the picnic tables where the individuals(s) removed excess plaster from their replicas. An oily residue and plaster chunks still adhered to the footprints. It even appears that the leftover plaster was thoughtlessly dumped into Flatbed Creek.
TRMF President Dr. Charles Helm commented: “We have to make sure that the selfish activities of one person do not damage a resource that is increasingly important to this region, as well as to science. The Tumbler Ridge track sites are protected, but it is up to us as members of this community to safeguard this important piece of regional and natural history, because once the dinosaur tracks are gone, they can never be replaced.”