On a rock challenge in Perry County, Pa., students view how paleontology is done

Photo and text by Tony MooreOutside of Newport, Pa., a white Dickinchild van bangs and also thumps up the rutted dirt road leading from the bottom of the quarry to the peak. It"s simply started its climb, and also the watch from the bottom is exceptional enough that everyone in the van gasps a little: The rock confront is enormous, extending directly upward towards the clear blue October skies. A development of turvital buzzards wheels in the sky, their shadows moving throughout the shale surconfront of the cliff.Finally reaching the top, where the see is even more exceptional, Joseph Priestley Professor of Natural Philosophy Marcus Key, Visiting Instructor in Biology Gene Wingert and also their 10 students climb out of the van, ready to hunt for fossils."We"re trying to find crinoids and brachiopods," Key states. Both, he notes, are marine pets. But take a quick look at a map of landlocked Newport and also a question could conveniently involved mind: Why is Key taking his students below to look for the fossilized continues to be of marine pets, to a website that is more than 190 miles from the Atlantic Ocean?"When Africa collided through North America, in the time of the Upper Devonian period, all these rocks were folded up into the Appalachian Mountains and also finished up here—around 375 million years ago," Key explains. "So these rocks at this elevation were not actually formed right here."

How paleontology is done

Standing at the optimal of a quarry overlooking the expanse of Perry County fits in well via what Eller Mallchok "15 was trying to find in her Mosaic experience."The aspect of doing hands-on fieldjob-related external the classroom was very cool and also distinctive to me," she says. "It was, as admissions would love to hear me say, distinctly Dickinboy." She laughs, yet the fact in her statement comes with. "To me, it really is. It"s a routine and also an opportunity that is distinctive to the college and one that I wouldn"t want to provide up."The students split up and also collection to researching rocks, breaking them apart via rock hammers or ssuggest crushing them, layer by layer, through their bare hands. They then recognize the pieces, either informing or asking Key what they"ve found, down to the phylum level. Wingert videotapes every little thing they discover for a DVD he"s compiling. "King Phillip Came Over for Good Soup," Key claims, reminding the students of among the even more common mnemonics for remembering the classification device for Linnaean taxonomy."This is how paleontology is done," Key tells the students, each of them holding dusty rocks. "What were we"re concentrating on is paleoecology: trying to understand the setting these creatures stayed in. If we were going to execute an evolutionary examine, just how would certainly we assault this outchop differently?"And the impromptu lesson, at the height of this vertigo-inducing cliff, turns right into a question-and-answer exercise on the clinical process and a lesboy in just how to settle paleontological mysteries. The session ends with a truth examine of sorts."Do you think any type of of these specimens would make it into the Smithsonian?" Key asks.

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The gathered students answer as one: "No."But a voice comes out of the crowd: "Do you have anything in the Smithsonian, Professor?""Do I?" Key turns gradually and also smiles. "Yeah."