Museum Fuels Fossil Hunters’ Passions to Keep Searching

A new program at Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art about the first female fossilist will get kids excited about science and eager to start hunting for fossils of their own.

Dino- and fossil-loving kids are going to have a great new reason to visit the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in March. The museum is shining a light on the first female fossilist who helped pave the way to an understanding of ancient life.

Created by Museum Educator and geologist Sara Kurth, the living history program, The Woman Who Changed Geology, arises from her passion for getting kids interested in science. The program focuses on Mary Anning, who Kurth knew had a fascinating story. Kurth says she was reminded of the woman’s contributions while hunting for books to read to her own dino-obsessed daughter.

Anning, it turns out, was not acknowledged for her work in finding “magnificent fossils” of the ichthyosaur and plesiosaur, both from the Jurassic period, Kurth says. She found and sold the fossils in order to keep her family fed, yet her findings were huge.

Photo Credit: Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

“It really turned the understanding of geology and evolution and extinction on its head,” Kurth says about Anning’s finds. “The more I read about it, the more I thought her life was interesting and needed to be told more, particularly for young people and young girls especially.”

Not only will the March 5 program, which runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m., focus on Anning and her findings —  including “a little bit of poop humor” with a sample of her Coprolite (fossilized poop) — it will be full of activities for the dino-loving crowd meant to get kids really excited about science. Among the activities planned are opportunities for kids to touch fossils, make their own fossils, do puzzles of dinos and get a living history character presentation of Mary Anning, Kurth says. Kurth’s mother, a period costume designer, is designing an authentic costume for Mary Anning.

Kurth says she’d ultimately like to take the program into the community and schools to inspire even more children to love science.

Key takeaways Kurth hopes from the event

Anyone can be a fossil or rock hunter. “There are plenty of people who are rock hounds,” she says. “You don’t have to be some fancy geologist to enjoy and find fossils.” Just go look and keep looking.

Keep pursuing your passions. “That’s exactly what Mary Anning did,” she says. Kurth says Anning’s story is a good one for girls. She was self-taught. “She was an amazing fossilist. And we haven’t really seen anyone like her since.” Although she eventually did get the credit for her findings, it wasn’t until after her death.

Keep going despite obstacles. “I just want kids to be exposed to geology,” says Kurth, adding she always had rock collections but didn’t fall in love with geology until college. “It changed my life for the better. At the end of the day, my goal is to make every child a geologist before they leave,” by helping them develop an appreciation for Earth.

Even more reasons to visit Lizzadro this winter

There are so many more reasons to visit Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, located in Oak Brook.

“Visitors will be captivated by the mixture of art and science,” Kurth says. The beginning of the museum is devoted to carving and the art of cutting and polishing stones, while the back half of the museum is devoted to rock and mineral science. “You have to understand the science to get to the art. You can’t have one without the other,” she says.

Kids leave the museum with an appreciation for both art and science, she says. Popular among kids are the dioramas of stone creatures, the mineral matching games and the birthstone exhibit featuring all the birthstones, including alternatives.

Kurth has some other events planned that kids also will love. On Jan. 8, kids 5 and older can get help starting their own rock collection, getting to pick from rocks, minerals and fossils at the event. They can also bring in rocks they found for identification.

On Jan. 29 and Feb. 19, kids 8 and older can learn rock and mineral identification techniques from Kurth or they can make their own gemstone jewelry, including a necklace, keychain and pin. Each class is followed by a tour of the museum and scavenger hunt. Advance registration is required.

Learn more about Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art or register for programs at lizzadromuseum.org.

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