ELLERBE – Students may have not struck gold Saturday, but they found many other gems such as amber, shark teeth and petrified wood in the annual Fossil Fair held at the Rankin Museum of American Heritage in Ellerbe.
Alongside their families, the first 100 students to register, ages preschool to 16, sifted through local dirt and mined for fossils. Participants used a brand new flume, a deep narrow channel or ravine with a stream running through it, which debuted as a new addition to the museum back in July.
The fossil fair operated under four hour-long sessions, with the first starting at 9 a.m., breaking for an hour and the last one starting at 1 p.m. Each session kicked off with a mini-lesson on how fossils are formed at the outdoor amphitheater, and then transitioned over to the flume to put the newly acquired knowledge to the test.
Diana Hawks, grandmother, accompanied her two grandsons to the event and spoke with excitement when she found out about the fossil fair while grandson, Caleb, 7, continued his discovery of amber, his favorite fossil find.
“I have my two grandsons for the day while their parents attend a UNC football game,” Hawks said. “I was excited they had something both educational and fun for all of us to attend and do together.”
Gail Benson, curator at the Rankin Museum and organizer of the event, shared this same sentiment as the goal and mission of the fossil fair.
“We want the participants to take some education home with them,” Benson said. “If it’s geology, we want them to learn about rock formations. If it’s fossils, we want them to know how fossils are formed. We want it to be educational, but also have them enjoy themselves at the flume.”
Since the incorporation of the flume, the two annual events the museum hosts, a gemstone dig in the summer and the fossil fair at the beginning of fall, has increased the number of participants and intensified the experience.
“We’ve had a really great turn out this year because the flume is new to us,” Benson added. “We used to do it with buckets and sanding nets, but now we have the mining flume, so it adds the ‘cool’ element for the kids.”
At the end of their mining sessions, participants were able to come inside the museum to get their finds examined by field associates in paleontology from the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, which is located in Raleigh, N.C.
Ruffin Tucker, one of the field associates, has participated in the fossil fair every year and has his own collection of fossils he’s collected, mainly from the Edisto Islands off the coast of Charleston, S.C, on display at the museum when he comes to visit.
He also shares the beauty of fossil hunting.
“I picked up my first fossil when I was nine years old and I got back into it in my sixties,” he says. “It’s something that you can always come back to and it never really leaves you. Fossils help us discover who we were and who we are.”
The fossil fair was a day of learning and appreciation for all who attended, but also for those who helped organized and run the event.
Molly Greene, 15, who works at the Rankin Museum gift shop on the weekends, participated in the fossil fair as a beta club member volunteer and spoke of the rewards of the program.
“I think it’s great that kids get to learn a lot about Richmond County and the surrounding area through dirt and fossils,” Greene said. “I’ve certainly learned a lot.”
The Rankin Museum of American Heritage is located at 131 West Church Street in Ellerbe, NC. It is open to the public Monday through Saturday, except Wednesday (it is closed on this day), from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, contact the museum at (910) 652-6378.