Thursday, May 5, 2011

Local Attractions: Fossils Found

This post has been cross-posted at Fig Media

My home has been trampled by dinosaurs. Everywhere you look, you'll find their distinctive marks. Dinosaur stickers cling to a dinosaur themed t-shirt heaped in the laundry basket. A dinosaur pop-up book is left open on the couch. The velociraptor is attempting to claw his way off the page to get to the plastic diplodocus sticking out between the cushions. Ask my two year old son what his favorite animal is, and he replies, "T-rex, Mommy! Raaawwwrr!" We have T-rex temporary tattoos and corythosaurus coloring books. And he's not just interested in their big teeth and bigger roars. Ask him about the corythosaurus and he'll excitedly start honking. Why? Because he's learned that the distinctive shape of this particular dinosaur's head likely indicates its unique ability to communicate through honking. He'll easily identify a stegosaurus because "he's got plates, mommy." I've learned more about dinosaurs from my two year old than I ever thought possible. My son is not just fascinated with fossils, he's passionate about all things petrified. My little man wakes each morning asking if we'll go see fossils today. This morning, I got to say yes.

The Delaware County Institute of Science is nestled on Veterans Square, steps away from Media's County Courthouse. It's a gem, hidden in plain sight. The building, erected in 1867 following the end of the Civil War, has always housed the county's Institute of Science which was started 34 years earlier in 1833 by five gentlemen scientists. In the mid-nineteenth century, when their membership and collection of minerals, artifacts, and specimens grew larger, the Institute went in search of a more permanent home and settled in Media. With three floors open to the public, the Institute's collection of fossils, historic items, and stuffed animals thrilled my little scientist.

We were kindly greeted and lead to the second floor of the museum where my son immediately ran to the spinal bone of a whale sitting on the stage area of the floor. The second floor not only houses an extensive library of books on Pennsylvania and the study of our natural sciences, but it also features a lecture area where the Institute hosts a monthly lecture series between October and May, bringing in a number of well-known scientists and presenters for the public to hear. Satisfied that he was indeed touching the bone of a whale, the kind staff suggested my son check out all the fossils on the third floor. His eyes widened, and he charged for the stairs. There's more?

The third floor is where it's at. Case upon case of coral and petrified wood, fossilized animal and plant remains, stuffed birds and bobcats, a telegraph machine and old model of the solar system, an antique camera and microscope collection, a celestial globe, shark teeth, and the best part, lots of stuff to touch. My son immediately found the "Please touch table." Gingerly picking up the bones of a variety of local wildlife, my son and I took turns guessing what animal each bone belonged to. Then he moved from section to section, pressing his nose to the glass cases. "Look, Mom! Look, Mom!" He ran excitedly to the telegraph machine, reaching out to tap it. Just as I was about to shoo his hand away, I noticed a sign stating that patrons could touch the tapping mechanism. My son and I tapped out S.O.S, the only thing I really know in Morse code, and he was thrilled. The fossils of petrified wood and dinosaur foot prints were a particular favorite, as was the case displaying the jawbones of sharks and alligators. Who knew all of this was right in Media!

The Delaware County Institute of Science is free and open to the public on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays between 9am - 1pm. As we headed down the stairs on our way out, my son pouted, not quite ready to leave. So I promised him that we would come back. And with it being so close, the next time he wakes in the morning asking if we can go see the fossils, I can easily say yes.

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