Josh Robinson—Argentina #2: Isotope Analysis with a Side of Café con Leche

I arrived in Buenos Aires last Friday morning (June 24) with little trouble and had the whole weekend to explore this exciting city and country. Buenos Aires is truly a major metropolis, with broad avenues, countless curb-side cafes, and many options for evening entertainment in the form of theaters and cinemas.

As soon as I arrived, I went out to Estancia La Cinacina where I was treated to a gaucho show and a true Argentine parilla (similar to a bbq or a South African braai). From my first taste of morcilla (blood sausage), I was hooked. I think I’ve acclimated quite nicely to the gastronomic aspects of Argentine culture—mid-morning coffee with medialunas (basically a glazed croissant) to late night meat-filled dinners washed down with delicious (and cheap!) Argentine wines.

Casa Rosada, the Argentine equivalent to the U.S. White House

Josh in front of Casa Rosada, the Argentine equivalent to the U.S. White House

But, of course, I am here to do research, and that is what you want to hear about. In the world of paleontology, Argentina is well known for their dinosaurs, including some of the largest yet discovered. Mammalian paleontology in Argentina is a decidedly smaller, although not less important, aspect of collection and research. Over the past week, I’ve been working at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales and have reviewed the dental remains of a few hundred astrapotheres (rhinoceros-like South American mammals), litopternas (horse-like South American mammals), primates, rodents, marsupials, and notoungulates (catch-all for most of the rest of the extinct large hoofed mammals of South America) from the Pinturas and Santa Cruz Formations. Astrapotheres, litopternas, and notoungulates do not have any direct living descendants, but some fun reconstructions have been developed. Modern examples of South American primates include spider and howler monkeys, while modern marsupials are almost exclusively opossums.

Dinosaur casts and fossils on display at the Museo Argentina de Ciencias Naturales

Dinosaur casts and fossils on display at the Museo Argentina de Ciencias Naturales

As I wrap up my week of research at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, I have developed a large database of tooth specimens that can be sampled for stable isotope analysis in the future. Searching through old collections, taking pictures and measurements, and familiarizing yourself with the fossil material available from a site are all important aspects of a pilot study for stable isotope work. I will be traveling this weekend to spend next week at the Centro Nacional Patagonico in Puerto Madryn, where I will be doing a similar review of another paleontology collection assembled by John Fleagle. In Puerto Madryn, some of the teeth have been approved and set aside for me to sample for stable isotope analysis. Together with my database of dental remains, the stable isotope results from a few dozen samples will go a long way towards the further development of this project.

Now it’s time to break for café con leche and medialunas again!

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