The Norman Transcript

September 21, 2013

Sam Noble Museum hosts fossil lecture, hunt

By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Adults with magnifying glasses in their hands and curiosity in their hearts imagined themselves as paleontologists Thursday night while examining fossils millions of years old. The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History kicked off Part 1 of its fossil field trip for adults with a lecture by Steve Westrop, curator of invertebrate paleontology, and a close-up look at a variety of fossils.

Part 2 of the fossil field trip will take place today with a trip to White Mound in Murray County and the chance to find and collect fossils.

During the lecture, Westrop saidd White Mound would have looked a lot differently during the Devonian Period, some 390 million years ago, and that it would have been completely underwater.

“The whole state (of Oklahoma) would have been underwater and in the southern hemisphere, which is why you’ll find so many invertebrate fossils,” Westrop said.

Invertebrates make up about 97 percent of the world’s animals and are much more common fossils than vertebrate fossils like that of the dinosaurs. Westrop said several different types of invertebrates are common at White Mound, including trilobites, brachiopods and solitary and colonial corals. Invertebrates less common to the area include bivalves, whose modern relative is the sea urchin, and cephalopods, like the nautilus.

With so many invertebrates up for grabs, adult fossil hunters may have a hard time deciding which ones they want to focus on, while other participants already know.

“I came last year and got a pretty good trilobite, but this year I have my heart set on a crinoid,” said Melissa Kesler, Midwest City resident.

Paleontologists and University of Oklahoma geology students have been coming to White Mound since 1909. It is one of the best known fossil collecting locations in the United States.

“People have collected fossils at White Mound for about a century,” Westrop said.

Because Mother Nature has eroded most of the rock at White Mound, participants won’t have to dig for fossils. They can find everything from the trilobites to the marine snails that Westrop mentioned just by looking around. Participants are also allowed to take home the fossils they collect.

At the end of Westrop’s lecture, fossils that had been previously collected from White Mound were distributed among tables, so participants could get a better idea of the kind of fossils they would be looking for. From large to broken bits of fossils, the fossils were examined with enthusiasm.

Steve Vanlandingham of Norman said although he enjoyed the lecture, he liked examining the fossils even better.

Several of the field trip participants had been on the fossil “dig” before and enjoyed it so much they decided to do it again.

Dale Rechtor, of Oklahoma City, said he went on the field trip about five years earlier and collected fossils, but he wished he had gotten more.

“I had a really good time. I actually turned a brachiopod that looked similar to a heart ... into a necklace for my wife,” Rechtor said.

Katherine Parker