Conner Keith, a Junior at Ada High School, returned June 27 from a two-week program that included a week of digging for prehistoric mammals in northeastern Nebraska.
“Paleo Expedition 2010” was part of ExplorOlogy!, an education project created by the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma and funded by the Whitten-Newman Foundation.
Keith was one of 12 participants selected from more than 30 applicants statewide.
After a week of preparatory work in and around the Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Keith and the other students journeyed to Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Nebraska.
During their stay, the students worked with Sam Noble Museum vertebrate paleontology curator Nick Czaplewski and Mike Voorhies, vertebrate paleontologist and curator emeritus at the University of Nebraska State Museum.
The team had an opportunity to help excavate ancient rhino fossils inside the park’s covered, public dig site known as the “Rhino Barn.”
They also conducted excavations at an off-park site where they found and excavated several fossils, including ribs, vertebrae and a partial jaw of Teleoceras fossiger, a short-legged rhino species that lived roughly 8 million years ago, as well as a two-foot length of tusk from a gomphothere, an ancient relative to mammoths.
Keith found the hands-on experience inspirational.
“My experience at Paleo Expedition 2010 has shown me an extremely fun side of science,” Keith said. “Sure, everyone does fun lab stuff at school, but finding real fossils just lying on the ground is far more fun than I had ever expected.”
Keith also commented that the program has opened a realm of possibility for his future.
“Becoming a paleontologist isn’t just a childhood dream that dies with your toys,” he said. “I have found out that it is a very realistic and possible career.”
The ExplorOlogy! project 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 ExplorOlogy! can be found online at explorology.snomnh.ou.edu or by calling (405) 325-4712. The museum is located on the OU Norman campus.