Amateur scientists identify fossils at Identification Day

Meara Isenberg

As soon as the doors to the Texas Memorial Museum opened Sunday afternoon, 5-year-old Andres Trujillo bolted up the steps, clutching a ziplock bag with unique contents — a tiny skull.

“Look at the jaws on it!” Trujillo said, waving the bag in the air.

Trujillo and his family drove to Austin from San Marcos to attend the 15th annual Identification Day, which brought in paleontologists and archaeologists to share their experience of identifying objects such as bones and rocks with museum-goers. The event was part of Austin Museum Day, which opened the museum from 1–5 p.m. for free to the community.

“Every day there is an opportunity for somebody to make a find, be it in their backyard or walking on a trail,” said Pamela Owen, associate director of Texas Memorial Museum. “People are naturally curious, so we want to be able to provide our community with experts and have this opportunity to learn about what their find is.”

Trujillo took advantage of the expertise. He ran up to the fossils and bones identification station and sat opposite paleontologist Chris Sagebiel, who shined his skull under a magnifying light. Sagebiel examined the skull and told Trujillo it belonged to a striped skunk.

“It’s just pure fun,” Sagebiel said. “It’s nice when you get a response out of the kids. You never know what to expect. Sometimes just seeing the excitement on their face is worth the whole day of sitting here for five hours.”

The fossil identification event brought not only curious young minds but intrigued adults to the museum as well. Austin resident Melita Abrego waited outside the museum before doors opened, determined to identify the mysterious mineral in her mini backpack.

Abrego made her way to the rocks and minerals table and waited intently as a scientist observed her rock. What she had was a concretion, a mass of sediments thousands of years old. Abrego’s concretion had little black crystals that made it unique.

“I’m going to display it. It’s a good conversational piece,” Abrego said. “All rocks are special, but this rock is a little unusual, so it’s a little more special.”

The Texas Memorial Museum will hold its next event, National Fossil Day, on Wednesday, Oct. 11.