Texas Memorial Museum allows visitors to interact with artifacts at National Fossil Day event

Josh Willis

Families, children and students viewed and touched various rocks and fossils Wednesday at the Texas Memorial Museum’s National Fossil Day celebration.

National Fossil Day was started in 2010 by the National Park Service in an effort to engage the public. Wednesday’s event at the museum was co-hosted by the Paleontological Society of Austin. Pamela Owen, Texas Memorial Museum associate director, said the annual event is a great way to reach people in Central Texas.

“It’s a way to get the public interested and informed about our fossil heritage and the fossil’s importance in terms of scientific value and how fossils tell us about what life was like in the past,” Owen said. “Specifically, here for us in Texas, we’ve got this beautiful fossil record that we can [use] to demonstrate a snapshot of millions of years of evolution.”

Suzanne Galigher, vice president and show chair of the Paleontological Society, said National Fossil Day serves to promote education and exploration for those of all ages.

“It’s all about educating the public about fossils and stewardship, conservation and things like that,” Galigher said. “We do kids’ activities; there are speakers and hands-on stuff, anything to get the kids and the public excited about the natural treasures in their backyard.”

Noting that children are often drawn toward playing with dinosaurs, Galigher said kids are often fascinated with the life-size artifacts on display.

“For young kids, they are naturally curious, and one of the things that they have found is that paleontology is often considered to be the gateway to science because kids are naturally drawn to dinosaurs,” Galigher said. “It’s one of the first natural science things they are introduced to.”

Galigher said introducing kids to paleontology is important because it opens doors for additional paths of scientific interest. She said this introduction could lead them toward studies that could influence their career paths.

“If you get them excited when they’re young, then as they get older, they build, and then they start branching out into the other sciences,” Galigher said. “Paleontology is biology and geology kind of put together, and then they might start discovering chemistry, or they might discover physics.”

In addition to showcasing artifacts, the society had volunteers on hand to examine items that guests brought in.

“We had a guy bring in something that had been in his family for a really long time from the 1930s when they owned some land, which became part of Big Bend National Park,” said Michael Smith, Paleontology Society membership chair. “It was at least one whole skeleton of something that looked like a little rodent of some sort, which is something you just don’t find. Particularly, as amateurs, it’s just incredibly rare to find something like that, in Texas anyway.”