Gathering sheds light on pieces of past

Lauren Giudice

Scientists from three archeological and history centers helped between 400 and 500 people identify artifacts for UT’s biannual Identification Day on Sunday.

The experts from Texas Natural Science Center’s Non-vertebrate Paleontology Lab, Vertebrate Paleontology Lab and Texas Natural History Collections looked at natural and archaeological materials and identified them for people for free. Most participants brought in arrowheads and other pieces of limestone.

“Texas Natural Science Center is committed to providing public awareness and understanding of Texas’ natural history,” said Pamela Owen, senior paleontology educator at the Texas Memorial Museum. “We all hope to continue to inspire people of all ages to be interested in the natural world. Identification Day is also a great way to encourage children to get outside, explore and get excited about science.”

Owen said it is very common for people in Texas to find fossils.

“Central Texas is covered by extensive beds of Cretaceous limestone, which contain the remains of sea creatures that were living between 120 to 65 million years ago,” Owen said. “We also have visitors that find fossils in other parts of the state, such as along the Gulf Coast or in West Texas.”

The event is both fun and educational, Owen said.

“It is a joy to see someone get excited about a fossil find, to realize they hold the remains of something that lived thousands or millions of years ago,” Owen said. “It is exciting to see what visitors will bring — there is usually a surprise or two — I really enjoy helping people figure out what they have found, for many have a pretty good idea, but some are completely at a loss as to what they have. There is great pleasure in solving ‘little mysteries.’”

Becky Kurka and her daughter Nicole attended the event and brought along a few potential artifacts for identification.

“When I came to school here years ago, I bought a little silver aluminum trailer,” Kurka said. “I was cleaning the cabinets in it with a broom, and I hit these things that felt like rocks, and this stone ax was one of them.”

The trailer she purchased had been sold in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The scientist hypothesized the stone ax is from the Southwest and is approximately 550,000 years old.

Jessica Rosales, the ichthyology collection manager at the Texas Natural Science Center, has been working at the event for about 10 years and said it is great having so many experts from different fields at one event.

“For people who have a mammal bone or a fossil or a really cool rock or something, it’s really exciting for them because they get it identified and you can be pretty certain that identification is going to be correct,” said Rosales, who was showing people common freshwater fish found around central Texas.