A fossil-filled rock more than 66 million years old was donated to Goshen College last week. The rock, which weighs hundreds of pounds, and is estimated by the donor to be worth $2000 to $3000, is a gift from a retired community member. Professors say it will be an educational and aesthetic asset to the college.
The rock is large, flat, and covered with the fossilized shells of Belemnites (long and beak-like) and Ammonites (spiral-shaped). The two species of squid-like marine molluscs lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, between 66 and 201 million years ago.
“It’s like a piece of art,” said Jody Saylor, professor and biology department chair, who helped arrange the rock’s donation to the college. It now sits on display in the Shrock Science Annex of the science building.
Ann Gibson, the donor, had kept the rock in her home in Goshen for years since she and her husband, Jack Gibson, purchased it in New Mexico. As Gibson was moving to Greencroft, she was thinking about how to get rid of the rock when her daughter, Kate Singer, suggested she donate it to the college.
Singer proposed the donation on Wednesday to Ryan Sensing, professor of biological and environmental science, who passed along the message to the rest of the biology department in order to gauge interest in the specimen.
John Mischler, assistant professor of sustainability and environmental education, was interested.
“Yeah, that thing’s freaking cool,” Mischler said.
In addition to their striking appearance, the fossils contained in the rock will be a useful study tool for marine science and zoology students at Goshen College, Saylor said.
“The donors were happy to know that it’s not just a beautiful piece; that it actually has some educational value too,” she said.
The rock is only the latest addition to Goshen College’s extensive rock and mineral collection, which spans multiple display cases and closets on two floors of the science building. Mischler, who studied geology as an undergrad, said he sees the rock as an exciting addition to the study of geology and earth sciences at Goshen College.
“It’s super valuable for students to be able to connect to the longer history of life on earth,” he said. The decisions humans make today, namely burning fossil fuels (most of which are older than the donated rock), are causing changes in our Earth’s atmosphere, land, and oceans that can’t simply be undone, Mischler said.
“You can’t just snap things back,” he said. “These longer time scales are what’s needed for us to think forward into the future.”