Fossil fun at the Oak Bluffs library


Islanders of all ages flocked to the Oak Bluffs library on Thursday for its annual Fossil Day. Falling within the national fossil “week,” as organizer “Fossil Fred” Hotchkiss put it, scientists and fossil collectors alike brought their troves of treasures to the library for an interactive night of teaching kids and adults about fossils.

Created by the National Parks Service, Fossil Day was officially observed on Wednesday, but they encourage people to celebrate throughout the week and whatever day suits them best. Hotchkiss, who is a retired paleontologist, has been organizing the event for five years, and always has a good turnout.

“I love the public participation,” Hotchkiss said. “The kids are really interested in it, and everyone has a good time.”

Presenters included educators from Polly Hill Arboretum, geological oceanographer Dr. Maurice Tivey of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), paleontologist Jessica Cundiff, zoologists Joe Martinez, Erich Dieffenbach, and Scott Smyers of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, undersea divers and collectors Heidi Raihofer and Joe Leonardo, and many more.

This year, Hotchkiss invited the Yale Peabody Museum to participate as well, and to Hotchkiss’ delight, two teachers from the museum made the trip for the event. Elissa Martin said they were happy to come because the Peabody Museum is small and they don’t often get to show the public most of the collections.

Displays ranged from megalodon teeth and arrowheads to marine and plant fossils, all with a mix of hands-on and strictly hands-off material.

Aiden Christensen, 10, and his dad Dave gravitated to Joe Leonardo’s shark tooth collection. Aiden, whose eyes were glowing at the sight of the huge, razor-sharp teeth, said he’s found many shark teeth and arrowheads on the Island, and was impressed by Leonardo’s collection. Leonardo has been collecting fossils as a hobby for much of his life, he said, but started seriously in 2004. “I spent my honeymoon in a swamp in South Carolina looking for fossils,” he said. “It was romantic.”

Many of the displays showcased fossils found right here on Martha’s Vineyard, however. People were encouraged to bring in their own fossils that they’ve found to show the researchers. Donna Javier brought in animal bones and skulls that her kids found in the woods behind her house roughly 30 years ago. Scott Smyers of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology thought maybe they were cat skulls.

Lisa Leonard brought in a fossil that her brother, a commercial fisherman, caught while dredging. Hotchkiss was quick to identify it as a crab fossil, with the claws and smooth top shell identifiable.

National Fossil Day at the Oak Bluffs library is partially supported by a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.