The Norman Transcript

N-town stories

April 11, 2014

Museum fossil trip an exciting step into past

NORMAN — Take a step into the past during the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History’s Family Invertebrate Fossil Field Trip.

Led by Dr. Steve Westrop, museum invertebrate paleontology curator, the trip takes families to White Mound, a site located near Sulphur, Okla., that was once the sea floor over 415 million years ago.

“The world was completely different. You have completely different animals so it really tells you how much things have changed over time,” Westrop said. “You’re getting basically a view of the world as it once was. It’s the closest thing we have to time travel.”

The fossils at White Mound — brachiopods, basically the shellfish of over 400 million years ago, and trilobites, related to the modern horseshoe crab — weather out of the rock layers naturally, Westrop said. Instead of having to pound on the rocks, participants sift through gravel to find pieces that are fossils. Whatever they find, participants are welcome to keep. And with fossils in abundant supply on site, Westrop said sometimes participants take home “boat loads” of fossils.

Jes Cole, museum head of education, said the experience is great for families because it’s “surface fossil collecting” and no specialized equipment is needed — just a bag and maybe toilet paper to wrap up a fossil. Plus, there is always something new to find, even if a participant has been on the trip previously.

“It’s like a big treasure hunt — looking for something that might catch your eye,” she said. “Lots of rocks, so have to look closely, but lots of great fossils out there.”

Westrop gives a formal presentation the night before the trip at the museum. During the presentation, Westrop explains that Oklahoma used to be a shallow ocean over 400 million years ago. As a result, the types of fossils found on site were the creatures that were living in the ocean at the time. The museum’s collections of relevant fossils are also on hand for participants to examine.

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