Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

July 3, 2013

Fossil hunting: A dirty job people love to do

Oskaloosa Herald

OSKALOOSA — A group of conservation board naturalists from around the state got their hands dirty Friday afternoon digging for mammoth bones in rural Mahaska County.

About a half dozen conservation boards as well as the Nahant Marsh nature center and Indian Hills Community College were represented by the group that came to the site to dig for fossils.

Naturalists are learning about mammoths and how to excavate a dig site to use in education programs for their conservation boards, said Mahaska County Conservation Board Naturalist Laura De Cook. The group is from the Iowa Association of Naturalists.

"We're trading off in different areas of the dig site," she said. "We're teaching each other" different skills such as digging with small tools and sifting dirt, she added.

"It's a fun day out of the office," De Cook said. "We're not afraid to get dirty. It has changed a lot out here. The hole is much bigger."

Mary Broadfoot of the the Clinton County Conservation Board said this is her first time working at the mammoth dig site.

"It sounded like a cool opportunity, so I came along today," she said. "I found a bone" that may be a piece of a pelvis."

Indian Hills Community College instructor Lee Wymore has worked at the dig site before.

"It's fun. You have to keep coming back," he said.

Wymore has a fond memory while working at the site.

"I'll take credit for finding the first tusk," he said. "That was pretty exciting. It was sticking in the ground vertically."

De Cook also made a discovery Friday afternoon.

De Coook uncovered a tusk and a piece of scapula (backbone) on the eastern side of the dig site.

It's a team effort," De Cook said of the discovery.

De Cook said she and her colleagues would uncover the bones Friday and then a group from the Fox and Sac Lapidary Club as well as William Penn University would be out Saturday to take the bones out of the ground.

Dave Brenzel of the Indian Creek Nature Center said he was pleased that the bones discovered on the east side of the dig site Friday were in good condition.

Toward the end of this past year's digging season, volunteers were uncovering bones in deteriorated condition on the east side as it was drier than the west side of the dig site. If the area is dry, oxygen can get to the fossils and degrade them. Volunteers had to wrap fossils found on the east side in plaster to preserve them. However, the bones found Friday were deeper and were in good condition.

“These bones are waterlogged,” which is a good thing, he said.

"We're just starting the season," Bresco said. "We're picking up where we left off."