Museum of Natural History to host field trip for fossilsBy Judah Martin | 07/30/2013 11:59pm
Although Alabama weather is often hot and humid even through November, much of the state was once completely covered by water.
Amanda Espy-Brown, education and outreach coordinator for the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall, said that was what Alabama looked like millions of years ago.
For the past 35 years, the Alabama Museum of Natural Science has ventured to parts of Greene County as part of an annual field trip, said Dalton Bryant, the receptionist for the museum.
While dinosaur bones are not a regular find at the site, Espy-Brown said remnants of prehistoric marine life are available in remarkable abundance.
“Technically, to be a dinosaur, you had to be a land animal,” Espy-Brown said. “For instance, we find a creature named the mosasaur, we have several here, and at that time there were lots of sharks.”
Gradually, over millions of years, the erosion of the surface rock sediment at the site revealed the abundance of marine fossils, particularly shark teeth.
“Sharks lose literally thousands of teeth in their lifetime,” Espy-Brown explained. “Literally, you can come back from the trip with bags and bags of shark teeth.”
For the price of $25 per visit, the museum will transport participants to Green County on Saturday to sift through the site. The group will leave from Smith Hall at 8 a.m. and will return by 5 p.m.
Museum staff members prepare the participants by providing scientific background, and since the prehistoric shark teeth are available in such copious amounts at the site, participants are free to take them as souvenirs.
“If somebody finds something that’s absolutely spectacular, we will keep it, but for the most part, people are allowed to keep what they find,” Espy-Brown said. “Occasionally, someone will find something rare, like a mosasaur vertebrae. On an expedition in June, somebody found a plesiosaur [vertebra] which is pretty rare.”
The reason it is so easy to discover such rare finds stem from the fact that Alabama is actually a preeminent state for fossil hunting.
“We find creatures here that are rarely found in other places,” Espy-Brown said. “We have paleontologists come to Alabama from different places in the country often. I think that when students get out into the Alabama countryside, particularly for students who may be from other states, they might have not ever wandered into Green County by themselves otherwise.”
Espy-Brown said the trip is open to anyone who’s interested and willing to explore the creeks and wooded areas on the site.
“We do a lot of things like canoeing, so anybody who’s mobile and is well enough to get in and out of creeks is able to go on the trip,” she said. “I think it’s an interesting trip, and it helps people to understand the geology of Alabama. You’re hundreds of miles from the beach, but you’re surrounded by marine fossils. I think it’s a great sort of way to think about Alabama history and what creatures lived here.”