Summer Paleontological Excavation At Woodburn High School

An annual summer paleontological excavation at Woodburn High School offers a perfect hands-on educational holiday

written and photographed by Christine Davis

An annual summer paleontological excavation at Woodburn High School offers a perfect hands-on educational holiday for parents and kids who dig ancient bones and like digging in dirt. The first discoveries were accidental, when in 1987 workmen found Pleistocene bones of giant mammals at a site near the school. Archaeologists started developing the site in 1996, hitting pay dirt a couple of years later when they found the bones of a giant ice-age bird (teratorn), which was later determined to be a new species. In 2004, after the professionals wound down their work, Woodburn High School biology teacher Dave Ellingson took over, leading annual digs for his biology students as well as community digs open to the public.

His students made the largest and most exciting find in 2008, unearthing an almost complete skeleton of an extinct ice-age bison. Every year, both groups find ice-age remnants of leaves, seeds, wood and cones, as well as the bones of small and large animals. At last year’s digs, a 12,000-year- old female bison skull was found, along with 400 pieces of a large swan. “What kid isn’t interested in dinosaurs?” Ellingson asked. “Technically, birds are dinosaurs. A lot of dinosaurs didn’t go extinct—they evolved and are closely related to today’s modern birds.” People enjoy finding fossils, and Ellingson likes giving them the opportunity to do so. Digs will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., August 14-19


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  1. says: IraJa

    Beautiful fossils, I’ve been researching fossils almost exclusively for the last few years, I’ve found some very intriguing things here in the Willamette valley, one of which is the clay composite fossils I’ve located here and there resulting from the Missoula floods, many are very large teeth seemingly with chewed food still stuck to them. I’ve cleaned dozens of them found many many seeds, always crushed rock, lots of small lizard animals, even a woody type mushroom perfectly preserved. Drawback being they don’t fit perfectly within our predetermined guidelines of what fossils are.. nice shaped bone or tooth with microscopic bone structure showing etc. I was just at rice museum with my hands on their brontosaurus femur.. I couldn’t see any of the bone structure like newer animals have, it was much more consistent with carnelian and appetite mixed with some fibrous course grainy material. Please, take everything I say with a grain of salt but be open to expanding our understanding of life on earth, if I’m correct we can learn about the food of dozens of different kinds of animals and dinosaurs.