Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Kindergarten Class from Nanny Elementary Tours Pleistocene Fossils

KINGSVILLE - May 26, 2011

Contact: Alice Hempel
A-Hempel@tamuk.edu or


            Twenty kindergarten students from five to seven years old learned about life in their own backyard 12,000 years ago at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Department of Biological & Health Sciences Pleistocene Fossil collection May 18.   

            Julia Strubhart's kindergarten class was following up on College Career Week, which had taken place the prior week at Nanny Elementary in Riviera, by visiting a college campus and learning about fossils and what people who study fossils -- or "paleontologists" -- do. On the A&M-Kingsville campus, they were able to see and even touch some of the numerous Ice Age fossils donated by the Wright family to the university's paleontological collection for educational and scientific purposes.  

            Dr. Jon Baskin, professor in the Department of Biological & Health Sciences, and Ronny Thomas, research technician in the chemistry and biological & health sciences departments, both talked to the students about fossils and all the things we can learn from studying them, such as what the environment was like in South Texas 12,000 yrs ago.  Some animals present then would be familiar to all of us today, like the white-tailed deer, bobcat and skunk. But there were also giant bison, ground sloths the size of bears, armadillo relatives the size of a VW bug, several different species of horses and, impressively towering over all of them, would have been the herds of Columbian mammoth, whose bones and teeth are well represented in the fossil collection. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was provided for each child to actually touch a real saber-toothed cat's tooth.  

            After touring the collection, the children had a special surprise waiting outside in the Kleberg Hall courtyard, where Thomas enlisted their help in cleaning a box of actual fossils fresh from the gravel pits, just like a real paleontologist. Each child was able to pick out a fossil and was then shown how to carefully remove the sand and clay clinging to the bone with a wire pick.  Students also assisted in stacking up meter sticks to illustrate how tall a Columbian mammoth was at the shoulder -- three meters, or nearly 10 feet.  Baskin and Thomas identified the fossils as the children cleaned them, which included parts of mammoth teeth, tusks and bones, giant turtles, horses and a whole host of Ice Age creatures.  The visit was topped off when the children were given permission to keep the fossils they had cleaned to take back to their classroom.

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