Spring 2011

[News]

HSU Student Gives New Life to Prehistoric Fossils

A COLLECTION OF CENOZOIC vertebrate fossils from Humboldt State University’s Department of Geology has a new home at the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), thanks in part to graduate student Kelly Givens.

Kelly Givins with Department of Geology’s fossil collection Kelly Givins organizes and maintains fossil specimen drawers for student labs in her role as curator of the Department of Geology’s fossil collection.

HSU’s fossil collection had been waiting for a student like Givens to come along when she volunteered to manage the department’s fossil specimens, which include several specimens used for teaching.

Pliocene era shark tooth This Pliocene era shark tooth was recovered on a class field trip in 1969, just south of Bridgeville.

The Cenozoic vertebrate collection is a unique contribution to the museum. “It’s important because it’s from this region, which might not already be represented at UCMP,” Givens says. “It benefits everybody if scientists can access these fossils for study.”

The collection contains specimens from vertebrates from about 5.4 million years ago to 12,000 years ago, during the Pliocene and Pleistocene Epochs. It includes fossils of late Cenozoic birds, sea otters and sharks. The collection also presents a mystery.

According to Geology Professor William Miller, most of the formations where the specimens were collected are shelly deposits. Such deposits are considered high-energy because they are shaped by the constant motion of tides and waves. However, in this collection there are fragile bird bones mixed in with these high-energy, shallow marine shelly deposits.

“It’s a paleontologic puzzle,” Miller says. “I don’t know how any of those delicate bird bones would have gotten mixed up and churned up like that.” Miller hopes that by opening the collection up to scientists, some answers might be found.

» Read about HSU’s world-class vertebrate collection.