Tag Archives: mammoths

Digging for dinosaur bones

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich © NorahColvin

Dinosaur Adventure, Norwich
© NorahColvin

My family has had a love affair, some might say obsession, certainly a fascination, with dinosaurs for almost forty years. My son initiated the affair when he was about three after being undecided whether to watch or not when dinosaurs burst onto the drive-in screen in One Million Years BC. I’m not sure when I first discovered dinosaurs, but It may have been at the same time.

By the time Rob was four, like many children, he knew the names of a great number of dinosaurs and could rattle off screeds of information about them. It had been a steep learning curve for all of us, though he remembered far more than I. A travelling encyclopedia salesman was so impressed by his knowledge that he gave him a book about dinosaurs. (I’d already purchased; it wasn’t an incentive.) Later, his little sister Bec shared his interest.

dinosaurs at museum Jan 91

© Norah Colvin

Now the affair continues with Rob’s own children. Six-year-old G1 can name and identify far more dinosaurs than I realised existed.  His younger sister G2 is not far behind. Such is the power of these mighty, and not so mighty, beasts to excite the imagination. The entire family become dinosaur experts in support of the children’s quest for knowledge.

I recently accompanied the family to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I have mentioned this previously here. Both were wonderful learning experiences.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

La Brea Tar Pits is a museum located at a fossil site where there are ongoing excavations. In the grounds, we saw realistic sculptures of prehistoric woolly mammoths trapped in the tar. Inside, we saw fossilised skeletons removed from the tar pits; including skeletons of animals such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves, and camels. Yes, camels originated in North America.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Walking the grounds, we had to sidestep the smelly tar that still oozes in puddles around the site. It’s an amazing experience, walking on the same land where these prehistoric creatures walked, their presence almost tangible. In an enclosed area, a group of paleontologists were working with fossils recovered from the site. Scientists use these fossils to help construct our understanding of life before human history began.

What I find interesting about the understandings derived from these fossils, is that much of it is guesswork; educated guesswork, yes, but fossils tell only part of the story. The rest must be filled in using knowledge of contemporary and recorded life. Sometimes assumptions are made, especially when only partial skeletons are found, that must be altered when, or if, complete skeletons are found.

American Museum of Natural History © Norah Colvin

American Museum of Natural History © Norah Colvin

I was very impressed with the way this aspect of science was dealt with in the American Museum of Natural History. Many signs informed us that scientists don’t know for sure, but that they have substantial evidence for making their assumptions. Other signs told of claims that had been revised as new information was discovered. I appreciated being told, in essence: “This is what we know, this is what we think, and this is the evidence to support our claims.”

This talk by palaeontologist Jack Horner, which I discovered via a link from Charli Millspost, demonstrates the process with some fascinating dinosaur discoveries and assumptions.

This recent BBC article Meet Nanotyrannus, the dinosaur that never really existed provides additional evidence to support Horner’s claims.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A study of dinosaurs provides many opportunities for learning across the curriculum and what a great way to incorporate children’s natural interests and curiosity when looking at topics such as scientific method, evolution and climate change.

I’m grateful to Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch for the incentive to write about this topic with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.)

Since “discovering dinosaurs”, so to speak, I’ve always thought how wonderful it must be to unearth a great find. I haven’t made it an ambition, but I appreciate the potential for excitement. Here’s my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Old Bones

She scratched at the surface tentatively at first, all senses keened, certain of imminent success. She’d uncovered bones here before. Usually one meant there’d be more. All it required was patience and persistence. Suddenly she contacted something more solid than the surrounding earth. She froze. Then exhaled. Could this be the object of her search? Frantically she scraped away the surrounding soil, exposing her find. She stepped back momentarily, assessing it, assuring herself it was real. Then with one final swoop, she removed the bone as carefully and proudly as any paleontologist would a dinosaur bone. “Woof!”

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Welcome to the toy box

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

A little while ago I wrote about my (small) collection of international toys and the fact that I wished to add to it when I visited Los Angeles and New York with my grandchildren. I received a few suggestions:

Sarah suggested anything I wouldn’t want to stare in the eye

Irene thought maybe a rattle snake, coyote or woodpecker

Charli wondered if a bison or grizzly bear would do, and

Geoff suggested a snake.

Many requested I share my choice.

I have now returned from that quick visit to the US, and did indeed bring back a small collection of toys to add to my toy box. (Four-year-old granddaughter informs me that 2 can be a collection, 3 is even better, and 100 is definitely a collection!) I have three to add to the toy box. A fourth got confiscated along the way.

When we visited Los Angeles, we went to the La Brea Tar Pits, a fossil site with an active excavation and museum. For a family fascinated with prehistoric creatures, the museum was a must visit. We were not disappointed.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Outside the museum we saw life-size sculptures of a mammoth family succumbing to the sticky entrapment of the tar pit. You may wonder why the sculptures are fenced. The mammoths may not be real, but the tar pit is! We saw much tar oozing up through cracks around the site as well as in the pond.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Inside the museum we saw skeletons and depictions of many of the animals trapped in the tar pits. These are skeletons of a mother and baby mastodon who fell victim of the tar:

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

We also viewed a 3D movie that provided information about the Titans of the Ice Age, including stories to explain the fate of animals whose fossils were found in the tar.

In this short of the movie, you may sight Smilodon, a sabre tooth cat.

I discovered that Smilodon is California’s State Fossil, so it was the first toy to add to my collection.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Unfortunately, Smilodon was confiscated by my grandchildren and didn’t make it home with me. I am assured it is very happy at their place with its competitor Dire Wolf, also seen in the movie trailer.

Of course, I couldn’t leave the store without some books as well.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

In New York my choices turned to fiction. I discovered that an exhibition of works by Mo Willems was being held at New York’s oldest museum, the New York Historical Society Museum and Library, not far from where we were staying.  I have previously shared my delight in Willems’ books. His books are humorous, and his illustrations, with their seemingly simple line drawings, are very expressive. Of course, I had to go, and had to buy.

I came away with Pigeon and Duckling, and two of Willems’ books.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I thought I was done adding to my toy collection, but when we visited the American Museum of Natural History, granddaughter insisted that I purchase this T-Rex because it was my favourite colour. How could I resist?

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Now that I am home, I have introduced Pigeon, Duckling and T-Rex to the other toys in my toy box.

welcome to the toy box

© Norah Colvin

They are settling in quite well, though everyone is complaining that it is becoming a bit squishy. However, I think they are rather pleased that Smilodon got waylaid along the way!

So I didn’t end up with any of the suggested choices. I hope you don’t mind.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.