Experts and amateurs

Fossil hunters of all types gathered for Fossil Day at the Tabernacle this year.


To the delight of hundreds of fossil enthusiasts and rock hounds, the Island’s annual Fossil Day returned last Saturday, this time at the Tabernacle. It is a free event where world-class collectors and scientists, museums, and experienced amateurs bring samples from their collections and encourage us to examine, touch, learn, and ask questions. Attendees were encouraged to bring along their own fossils as well.

The event has grown each year since the Oak Bluffs library hosted the first National Fossil Day in 2010. That year Frederick (“Fossil Fred”) H.C. Hotchkiss, director of the Vineyard Haven–based Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute (MPRI), co-sponsored the event with the library. Ten years later, Bart Jarek, an avid amateur geologist, stepped in as co-producer and an exhibitor. He did a great job reaching new people, and the Tabernacle was the perfect place for this annual celebration. 

One new feature this year was a fossil-themed video collage produced by the filmmaker Jonny Baer. The looping images cascaded like a waterfall down the screen set on the stage, creating the illusion of a room without adding a wall.

Jarek’s exhibition covered multiple tables, and included large specimens and posters explaining how different types and shapes of rocks were created, how to look for fossils, and how they were created. Joining him was the esteemed biologist Robin Kolnicki.

Renowned dinosaur finder and ophthalmologist Dr. Henry Kriegstein brought fossils from his extraordinary collection. In the summer of 2013 on a ranch in Faith, S.D., Dr. Kriegstein found the pubic bones and two ribs from a Tyrannosaurus rex sticking out of the ground. It turned out to be the second largest and most complete T. rex ever found. Its name is Victoria. The raptor claw he found this past summer was large, smooth, sharply pointed, and shiny. It made the claws of a grizzly bear seem cute.

Duncan Caldwell of Aquinnah, who, besides being a fellow of the Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute, is an artist and landscape designer, author, scientist, and explorer, and brought a number of fossils, including mammoth teeth.

Bob Woodruff, a conservation ecologist and experienced fossil hunter, brought samples from his collection, graciously answered questions, and presented information about the geology of the Island. He appreciated the treasures folks brought in for identification. In an email, he summed up the success of the event: “It was wonderful to see so many kids among the adults yesterday! I’m glad I brought two magnifying glasses! When you see a child pick up a hand lens to get a closer look at what is before him or her, you know you’ve sparked an interest that may last a lifetime.”

Jessica Utrup, a paleontologist from Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, brought a remarkable fossil of a snail feeding on a crinoid, and paleontologist Jessica Cundiff from the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology encouraged everyone to “go out and explore and see what you find. Explore your own backyard, and talk to people and the experts.“

Archaeologist, author, and collector Bill Moody brought an extensive collection of spear points and arrowheads. He showed where a point had been turned into a knife, indicating that the knife was too valuable to throw away. Rick Karney brought his collection of fossils, and shared tips on where and how you can find them.

The Oak Bluffs library, original supporters of the event, set up a table where children made their own fossils with Mary Jane Aldrich Moody. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s Norah Messier, education and public programs manager, and Bow Van Riper, research librarian, brought fossils from their collection.

Hotchkiss and Jarek asked to extend a thank-you to the community, especially to the Oak Bluffs library for co-sponsoring the event, and the MVCMA for donating the use of the Tabernacle.