Monday, January 21, 2013
Perot Museum hosts a variety of local fossils, many on loan from SMU
Including the enormous sea turtle hanging from the rafters.
DALLAS The land is arid. Its inhabitants undergo crippling heat, little rain and countless droughts.
Texas suffers from a shortage of water, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Visitors to the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Uptown now have an opportunity to see fossils of animals from a prehistoric time when an ancient sea covered the Big D.
The fossil display, which is made possible by an ongoing collaborative effort between SMU and the Perot Museum, contain “some spectacular pieces that tell some very interesting stories,” according to Anthony Fiorillo, Curator of Earth Sciences at the Perot.
Many of the fossils on display date from a geological period called the Cretaceous, which lasted from 146 million years ago to 66 million years ago.
Some of these are plant fossils that were discovered at a ranch southwest of Fort Worth in Hood County. Some other fossils on loan from that period, include sea turtles and mosasaurs, which are ancient aquatic lizards that eventually evolved flippers and long bodies for life at sea.
In 2006 a then 5-year-old Preston Smith was on a family outing along the North Sulpher River in Ladonia Texas when she stumbled upon what appeared to be the remnants of a turtle. But this was no ordinary find. When Diana Vineyard, director of administration and research associate at SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man, got her hands on the specimen as graduate student, she worked to determine the creature had died 80 million years ago.
She also found that it wasn’t only one turtle Smith happened across. There were many, stacked one on the other when they met their demise millennia ago. Vineyard was responsible for classifying these ancient reptiles “Toxochelys”—scientific lingo giant for turtles.
Also on loan from the Shuler Museum, and identified by Vineyard, are fossils of 110 million-year-old sea turtles dating from the early Cretaceous period in Texas, which were discovered near Granbury. Such a discovery, Vineyard said in a recent report, shows initial specimens in the transition of turtles from land and shallow marine animals to fully developed ones.
Scientific discoveries like Vineyard’s coincide with some SMU students desire to pursue a better understanding of the ancient past. SMU Senior Katharina Marino, a double major in Journalism and Geology, is elated about the fossils being displayed at the Perot.
“SMU has made substantial contributions to the Perot Museum,” Marino said. “For me personally, being a student at SMU and then having an institution like the Perot museum [to experience] has been incredible. I can take my direct knowledge I learn at SMU and walk over to the museum and apply it directly.”
“Being partners with SMU, that partnership is very deep. We work together so often on so many things. But by working together [on this] we have been able to put together a premier showcase for the public to come and see—whether they are local or out of town—we are showcasing the very important work that goes on here in Dallas, and that story is strengthened with partnerships particularly with SMU,” Fiorillo said.
The exhibit is to remain open based upon the discretion of the Perot Museum.
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