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Students get hands-on adventure

5/15/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

QUINTER -- Two Quinter High School students spent part of April in an outdoor classroom, digging out the remains of an 85-million-year-old reptile that once ruled a vast inland sea.

Along the way, the students -- senior Tanner Samuelson and sophomore L.T. Coburn -- worked with paleontologists at Sternberg Museum of Natural History to excavate the fossilized remains of a 16-foot long mosasaur, according to a statement issued by the high school.

Samuelson and Coburn excavated the fossil of a long-dead reptile as part of a project for their advanced biology class.

Before excavating the fossil, the students spent time researching the project online and visiting Sternberg to learn more about properly removing a fossil.

The actual excavation took place in mid-April, with the students working side-by-side with members of the Sternberg staff, including Laura E. Wilson, paleontology curator at the museum, and Reese Barrick, the museum's director.

"We were told it was very rare to find a mostly intact fossilized specimen," Coburn said in the statement. "When we arrived, all we knew was that there were some vertebrae exposed on the surface. Upon further digging and brushing, we found a mostly intact specimen. I am excited to see this specimen completely exposed."

"Getting down in the dirt and digging up fossils was an amazing experience that I will never forget," Samuelson said. "It was mind-blowing to find something that old and in that good of shape. The joy of finding parts of an extinct animal and knowing you are the first person to uncover them is awesome."

The actual digging started soon after it was determined where all of the fossilized bones were located, and a trench around the specimen was dug out. That's when the remains were covered with burlap and plaster for removal to Sternberg and its eventual preparation.

"This is exactly the type of partnerships we're hoping to build in the community," Wilson said.

"We are able to work with a great group of students excited to learn about paleontology, geology and natural history.

While David Levering, Sternberg's director of education and outreach, joined the chorus in giving accolades to the project, he also heralded what was found.

"I should also mention that this is a pretty spectacular fossil we've been digging up," he said. "There has been a lot of learning going on at the field site as we work on the excavation; this specimen has much more to teach us, many more budding scientists to inspire, and a wealth of scientific information yet to be revealed."

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for high school students to unearth an intact specimen that is believed to be approximately 15 feet in length and lived in the ancient seas over 65 million years ago," advanced biology teacher Steve Nicholson said.

"This is truly a hands-on learning experience."