Middle school students sifting through 66 million year old sediment, making fossil finds that benefit researchers
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and N.C. State University are working together on a project meant to introduce middle school students to paleontology, which will also benefit researchers around the globe.
It’s called Cretaceous Creatures, and coordinator Dr. Elizabeth Jones said it’s one of the largest public science projects of its kind.
“We're sending sediment from the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, it's about 66 to 67 million years old, to middle schoolers across North Carolina and then nationally and then internationally,” she explained.
The sediment comes from a site you may have heard a little about – it’s the spot in Montana where the remains of the “Dueling Dinosaurs” were found by ranchers in 2006.
Jones said, “It's a Tyrannosaur of some sort -- that's one of the questions they're going to figure out -- and a Triceratops seemingly locked in a battle to the death, is what they say, which is why they call it the ‘Dueling Dinosaurs.’”
The fossilized remains of both ancient creatures are now being studied at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and researchers hope to answer some questions about the two dinosaurs; is the Tyrannosaur a T. rex or another very close relative? And other questions about the two species’ overall -- like whether tyrannosaurs may have had feathers or what the frill atop the Triceratops massive skull actually looked like.
“Both of the skeletons are nearly complete, very well preserved,” Jones said, “They're just, they're gorgeous. They're one-of-a-kind. And what our scientists at the museum are doing, (they) are going to prepare them and then answer lots of questions about why were these two creatures buried together? And were they indeed dueling, or was there another reason for their burial together?”
So, the students in the program are studying the sediment from around that site and Jones said they have already made a lot of interesting discoveries like, “Small teeth of ancient rodents, or sometimes dinosaurs, shells of turtles, and they are not just finding this material, but they're working through an online module to help identify them.”
Museum scientists working on the project will verify the student’s findings and then build a database with the information that will available to other researchers.
Jones said it’s, "A massive database of all the micro fossil that they found and identified from this area, and then scientists across the world will be able to access the database in order to use it for their own research purposes to better learn about how this environment was about 66 million years ago.”
The project was launched last year, and Jones said 55 teachers from 32 counties participated in the first year, Registration is now open for next school year and they hope to get the program into schools in all 100 North Carolina counties.
Information about the Cretaceous Creatures program and a link to registration for teachers is available here:
More about the Dueling Dinosaurs research is available HERE.