By Dan Furimsky
The Aurora Fossil museum is truly a gem within the beautiful eastern North Carolina countryside.
The museum, located at 400 Main Street in Aurora, opened in 1976 and has many wonderful fossil exhibits. Most feature local fossils collected in the PCS Phosphate Mine, but there are fossils from many localities including an entire whale found in coastal South Carolina. There are reconstructed shark jaws, Native American artifacts, murals of many ancient creatures, and several knowledgeable museum staff members led by Museum Director Andrea Stilley on hand to answer your questions.
Each spring, Memorial Day Weekend is a special time. The town of Aurora hosts its annual fossil festival and 2009 marked the 16th consecutive year for this ever popular festival. I have volunteered the past four years along with a host of others to help with the duties of putting on a festival that brings an estimated 10,000 visitors to the quaint little town. As a former Earth Science teacher in Carteret County, it gives me an opportunity to share my love of fossils with many of the town’s visitors.
There is something for everybody at the festival-trust me. A parade featuring the Marine Corps Band, museum lectures featuring some of the brightest paleontologists on the East Coast, fossil exhibits, live reptile and bird exhibits, Smithsonian Institution scientists on hand to identify visitor’s finds, mounds of fossil bearing material courtesy of PCS Phosphate all over town for folks to dig in, fossil and mineral vendors, great food, and too many other vendors to even attempt to describe. Add to that the fact that PCS Phosphate takes busloads of visitors on to their plant for tours, and of course, no visit to Aurora would be complete without spending time in the Aurora Fossil Museum.
These festivals “don’t just happen” without the hard work of countless volunteers and monetary assistance from sponsors. Everyone in eastern North Carolina owes the fine folks at PCS Phosphate a big THANK YOU for all that they have done over the years to make the festival the success that it is. Aside from the tours, monetary assistance, and providing reject material for children to collect fossils in, PCS Phosphate continues to be a major employer in the region. I shudder to think what the economic status of my beloved eastern NC would be like without this fine company providing jobs, tax dollars, and more support to the scientific community than anyone could ever imagine.
So what did yours truly actually do at this year’s festival? I divided my time between helping kids of all ages find fossil sharks teeth in the “Piles of the Pungo” mounds and helping with the new whale fossil that will go on exhibit soon. A large section of a fossil whale was acquired by the museum recently and it is being prepared by members of the Friends of the Aurora Fossil Museum to go on display. This project is being headed up by Greenville’s very own well known amateur paleontologist, George Powell. George and several volunteers have been methodically uncovering with dental picks and brushes a series of associated vertebrae and ribs from what is believed to be a juvenile sperm whale or baleen whale. Final identification will be done by professional paleontologists once the specimen is completely prepared.