The Edmond Sun

Local News

July 29, 2012

Edmond students return from paleontology field program

NORMAN — Gray McCutchen and LaDaryn Lockett, both of Edmond, returned recently from Paleo Expedition, a two-week program that included a week of digging for prehistoric mammals in northeastern Nebraska.

“Paleo Expedition 2012” was part of the Whitten-Newman Foundation’s ExplorOlogy Program, an education project created by the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma and funded by the Whitten-Newman Foundation.

The Edmond students were among 12 participants selected statewide for a 15-day residential adventure with scientists from Sam Noble Museum.

Lockett, who will be a sophomore at Edmond Memorial High School, said, “Before (Paleo Expedition) I thought I had science figured out.”

Once he went to a dig site and learned about the process of paleontology, he said he now understood why so many different sciences are used for a basic understanding of fossils and excavation.

The first week of the program included learning paleontology basics at the museum and travel to Oklahoma geological and paleontological field sites. The Paleo Expedition team visited Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s highest elevation point, to assist scientists from the Sam Noble Museum and Oklahoma State University with the excavation site, which is believed to be a new fossil bed. After six hours of digging, the students discovered fossils belonging to a long-necked sauropod, believed to be from the late Jurassic era, 150 million years ago.

The students camped at Black Mesa State Park and enjoyed hiking to the top of the mesa and viewing the unique local wildlife.

After the first week, McCutchen and Lockett, along with the other students, journeyed to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Nebraska. During their stay, the students worked with Mike Voorhies, vertebrate paleontologist and curator emeritus at the University of Nebraska State Museum. Each student had an opportunity to help excavate ancient rhino fossils inside the park’s covered, public dig site known as the “Rhino Barn.”

In addition, the students discovered and excavated a number of fossils, ranging in age from 8 million to 9 million years old. These included a rhinoceros jaw, scapula, hoof and ribs, a tortoise shell, a carnivore’s tooth, and the fossils of a bird.

The most important thing McCutchen, a sophomore at Edmond Santa Fe, said he learned from Paleo Expedition was the importance of communication in a group.

“My experience in Paleo Expedition has made me even more interested in science,” McCutchen said. “It gave me a look at what real scientists do.”

The Whitten-Newman Foundation ExplorOlogy Program also includes “Oklahoma Science Adventure,” a week-long residential program for middle school students; “Science Escape,” a spring break program for teachers and students to enjoy together; and a summer Science Institute just for teachers.

Additional information about the Whitten-Newman Foundation ExplorOlogy Program can be found online at explorology.snomnh.ou.

edu. The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus at Timberdell Road and Chautauqua Avenue.

Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors 65 and older, and $3 for youth ages 6 to 17. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free. Discounts are available for military personnel and their immediate families.  

For accommodations on the basis of disability, call 325-4712.

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