Southeastern Section - 65th Annual Meeting - 2016

Paper No. 13-2
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-5:30 PM


POWELL Jr., George W., 109 Ironwood Drive, Greenville, NC 27834 and CRANE, Cynthia Danielle, Aurora Fossil Museum Foundation, Inc., PO Box 352 / 400 Main Street, Aurora, NC 27806-0352,

The involvement of citizen scientists and volunteers has an extensive history within the museum dynamic. This participation holds true in the everyday operation of the Aurora Fossil Museum (AFM) and at times, special circumstances reveal the extent of their dedication. In 2009, the AFM acquired a section of associated whale vertebrae and ribs discovered in the neighboring phosphate mine. The task of developing this large-scale project into a display piece at the AFM was assigned to a group of citizen scientists.

The duration of the project from initiation to completion encompassed 12 months and involved over 400 volunteer hours. Volunteers learned hands-on field prepping and jacketing techniques of a large-scale specimen, as well as methods on display development, and the incorporation of educational materials. During that time, the initial block containing the specimen measuring 8x6x1.5 feet and weighing approximately 2000 pounds was reduced to 6x4.5x1 feet and approximately 1500 pounds.

Initial scientific evaluation and research conducted by the volunteers revealed that the specimen was extracted from the stratigraphic Unit #2 horizon of the Yorktown Formation thus allowing for an approximate age of eight million years. Once further elements of the specimen were revealed it was discovered that no diagnostic elements were present to determine the actual species. Utilizing comparison analysis techniques, it was hypothesized to be a juvenile whale measuring 35-40 feet in length. Of significant mention was the fact that not only did this project involve the largest and most complete fossil specimen to ever come out of the phosphate mine, it also was the largest completely volunteer-effort paleontological project on a single specimen carried out at and for the AFM to date. This project helps to further verify the significance and importance of citizen science involvement in AFM displays, education, and service.