MARTIN, Tenn. – Huntingdon Middle School eighth grader Lydia Jones was one of about 90 students who had to sketch each sample in her tray of fossils and identify them. Among her seven fossils, she had to sketch a sponge, a clam, a trilobite and a shark’s tooth.
“It was kind of hard,” Jones said. “Some of the fossils didn’t look like their pictures.”
Dr. Stan Dunagan, associate professor of geology at the University of Tennessee at Martin, presented an hour-long program to the eighth graders at the middle school because one of his former students asked.
Eighth grade science teacher Magen Beard was a student of Dunagan’s at this time last year at UT Martin. “I just called and asked if he could come to Huntingdon,” Beard said. “We were able to work out the date, and we went from there.”
Dunagan, who lives in Paris, Tenn., but grew up in Martin, told the students about the types of fossils they could find in the three grand regions of Tennessee.
“You will find the oldest rocks in East Tennessee,” Dunagan said. “You will find a lot of trilobites, that look kind of like big cockroaches, on the ocean’s floor. In Middle Tennessee you will find lots of limestone, the state rock, with crinoids, brachiopods and corals; and in our part of the state you will find fossil sharks’ teeth, marine reptiles, clams, snails and oysters.”
After Dunagan talked for about 15 minutes he gave the eighth graders a chance to see what they learned by passing out two kits of fossils to each table of students.
Beard, four teachers (Robin Belew, Janice Truett, Lorrie Vincent and David Hale) and one teacher’s aid (Judy Parrish) had the answers and worked the room with Dunagan to help the students identify the seven fossils in each kit.
The kits were made up of fossil sponges, brachiopods, crinoid stems, trilobites, fossil wood fragments, shark teeth, clams, including Pterotrigonia the state fossil, horn coral, colonial coral, echinoids and blastoids.
Jack Tucker, one of Jones’ classmates, agreed with her. “It was difficult because some of the fossils didn't look like the pictures we saw.”
Another classmate, Dawson Dale, disagreed with Tucker and Jones. “I thought it was easy,” Dale said.
When all the students were finished sketching the fossils in their kit, they were invited to check out some of the other fossils Dunagan brought with him.
Most students were fascinated by the wood fossils and how heavy they were. Others were into the sharks’ teeth, while some fancied the coprolite (fossilized poop).
This fossil (the coprolite) can sell for about $25 to $35, Dunagan explained. “The bigger the poop the more it’s worth,” he said.
Dunagan said the assembly on Tennessee fossils was the first time he has presented such a broad topic to a large group of young people.
“We had been studying fossils, and I thought this would be a great way for the students to get a first-hand look at some of the things we had been talking about in class,” Beard said.
Dunagan was more than happy to help out his former student.
“I hope I was able to create some interest in science for the students,” Dunagan said. “If nothing else I wanted to get their curiosity up.”