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Smithsonian Institution pays homage to Lee Creek mine

By Staff
Fossil hunters also help festival patrons
By GREG KATSKI
Staff Writer
AURORA- It was a busy weekend in Aurora for fossil enthusiasts of all ages.
With the 15th annual Aurora Fossil Festival came the influx of paleontologists from across the state, region and country.
The most prestigious of these fossil hunters was David Bohaska, a collections manager with the Department of Paleobiology at the Museum of Natural History.
Bohaska and his team of volunteer paleontologists, including Fred Grady and Margaret and Steve Noel, spent Saturday helping collectors identify fossils at the festival and Sunday traversing nearby Lee Creek mine.
Paleontologists with the Smithsonian Institution have made appearances at the festival for the past 10 years, according to Bohaska.
Bohaska’s colleague in the Department of Paleobiology, Robert Purdy, was the original organizer of the yearly appearances.
Bohaska, an expert in marine mammals, and Purdy, an expert in sharks, teamed up to start a fossil identifying exhibit at the yearly festival.
Each year, the team prints out hundreds of prehistoric fossil diagrams and tries to identify fossils brought from collectors by matching them with the diagrams.
The exhibit was set up at the Aurora Community Center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Bohaska identified several noteworthy fossils.
Although Bohaska would have loved to bring some of the fossils back to the museum, he tried to not be overbearing.
Bohaska and his team got started on a fossil collecting expedition of their own early Sunday morning. The hunters mined Lee Creek from 8 a.m. until about 2 p.m.
Bohaska tries to mine the site at least twice a year.
The mine, which is privately owned by PCS Phosphate, welcomes fossil hunters, such as Bohaska, each season. Clubs and individuals are required to apply for time slots before digging.
By policy, hunters can only dig once a season to allow other collectors a chance to reserve a slot.
One of the most important things to bring is water, according to Margaret Noel.
Bohaska enjoys digging the mine and remains astounded by the variety of fossils found at the site.
This assertion was backed up by Clayton Ray, curator emeritus for the Department of Paleobiology at the Museum of Natural History.
In the publication “Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, Volume IV”, Ray said the Lee Creek Mine is “probably the most prolific in the world” regarding fossils species collected.
Ray is accredited with helping the Department of Paleobiology in it’s infancy.
Ray’s admiration for the mine can also be seen at the Aurora Fossil Museum. A quote inscribed on the wall in the main lobby and attributed to Ray reads, “the mine has made the most significant contribution to knowledge of coastal plain paleontology.”
The site has caught the attention of paleontologists across the region and country.