Roanoke College

Roanoke College alums’ dig produces 14 million-year-old fossils

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  • Roanoke College alums’ dig produces 14 million-year-old fossils

  • 09/19/11
  • Fossils that are an astounding 14 million years old, recently excavated from a site in eastern Virginia by two Roanoke College alumnae, were exhibited at a private reception Aug. 11 at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.

    Amanda Smolinsky '08 and Laura Kellam '11 volunteered in July on a paleontological dig at the Carmel Church Quarry in Caroline County. The site, a few miles north of Richmond, is one of the richest fossil vertebrate localities in the eastern United States.

    The two were invited to participate in the dig by Dr. DorothyBelle Poli, a Roanoke College biology professor who was chosen this spring as one of the museum's 40 research associates.

    "I was visiting [campus] for a weekend and wanted to say hi to some of my professors," said Smolinsky, who lives in Fredericksburg. "Dr. Poli mentioned doing a dig, and I signed up to be a volunteer for a week."

    Smolinsky said she and other volunteers, including Kellam, excavated fossils from the Miocene era, which extends from about 23.03 to 5.332 million years ago. Among their finds: whale bones, shark teeth, fish bones, and a turtle humerus (forelimb) bone that one museum staffer described as a "rare find."

    "It's a really dense fossil site," Smolinsky said. "They've been digging there for 25 years, pulling out a bunch of cool stuff. Most places you find maybe one bone. [At the Carmel Church site] you find dozens stacked on top of one another."

    Poli said the site is full of intriguing finds.

    "The puzzle the site presents makes for very engaged volunteers and unbeatable training experiences," she said. "Being top students at Roanoke College and with natural interest in this type of science, Laura and Amanda were natural choices for this visit. They represented Roanoke College very well to the Virginia Museum of Natural History and really helped foster a strong connection between the institutions."

    Smolinsky, who pursued graduate studies at Cambridge University, works at a veterinary hospital. Kellam is living in Florida, where she works with the U.S. Forest Service. During her 2011 spring break, Kellam participated in a paleontological dig near an old rock quarry south of Fredericksburg, Va.