Sea Monsters of the North, Part XXII: Bride of the Loch Ness monster

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When your workers are hunting the Loch Ness monster, it’s likely you’ll get an unusual question or two from them.

But a request by Stig Larsen to “borrow” the whole crew for about 30 minutes when they were supposed to be reporting to work still seemed a bit eccentric given the limited amount of time they have to complete their project. What followed next was even more so.

“Well, I am going to get married today, in camp,” he told everyone. “And you are all invited.”

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A black bridal bouquet is just one of many usual touches at a wedding held in a prehistoric graveyard. Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash.

On top of that startling announcement the group learned Larsen’s fiancée, Lillian, would be visiting the camp along with a group of “kept-in-the-dark friends from their local geology club” and a smuggled-in justice of the peace, wrote Aubrey Roberts, a member of the monster hunting team, in a post this week on the expedition’s official blog. And, thus, the annual excavation of prehistoric fossils in western Spitsbergen was put on hold during what she deemed “a nice day for a mud wedding.”

“Wedding invitations were passed around with the morning coffee and we had about 30 minutes to prepare,” Roberts wrote. “PhD student Bitten Bolvig Hansen created a bridal bouquet of duct-tape roses, bow ties, and bows for the girls. Even in the field, certain expectations need to be reached.”

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Riflemen fire a three-gun salute to the newlyweds. Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash.

The boat arrived and, after the expected bewilderment, the bride showed up in a “gown” and the groom in a “tux” that looked remarkably alike (albeit well-suited for digging in the Arctic dirt). A three-gun salute was fired after they exchanged vows and a wedding cake that looked like a big batch of cinnamon rolls from Fruene (a cafe who’s name appropriately translates to “wives”) was shared.

“And the groom had already given the bride her wedding present: a large shoulder tattoo of two plesiosaurs shaped as a heart, with the date written underneath,” Roberts wrote.

But their mutual fondness for the marine reptiles meant the couple spent much of their wedding day digging up gravesites along with the rest of the crew. Although, Roberts notes, “the newlyweds did get their own ‘tent suite’ for the night and best-man Øyvind had to find somewhere else to sleep.”

The day was just another chapter in an eccentric series that occurs here at this time every summer due to a well-established scientific theory: dinosaurs are cool.

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Participants in Jørn Hurum’s prehistoric fossil expedition search examine a site where plesiosaur remnants were discovered during a previous trip. Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash.

Never mind that, scientifically speaking, it’s prehistoric marine reptiles and not dinos being dug up from their graves. The “wives” cafe sells handmade “fossilsjokolade” using ubiquitous dinosaur molds and gift-shop trinkets are generally equally indistinguishable.
The excavation teams, led by Oslo paleontologist Jørn Hurum, have achieved worldwide notoriety during their 11 years of work by discovering new species that are given catchy names like “Predator X.” For Hurum, it’s simply good marketing that draws people’s attention and hopefully gets them interested in the more substantial aspects of their findings.

This year’s featured creature is the Loch Ness monster, better known to scientists as a plesiosaur that roamed the Earth roughly 200 to 235 million years ago. The excavators are trying to learn why the animal suddenly showed up during that era and what species they may have evolved from, continuing extractions from a site they visited last summer.

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