Tucumcari students make phyto-find

By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun

Teenage volunteers at the MesaLands Dinosaur Museum have made a rare find.
Tucumcari High School Students Stephen Smith, Carmen Runyan and Donny Price found teeth from a Phytosaur. That’s a semi-aquatic species that flourished in the late Triassic period 205 million years ago. They found the teeth while screening a sample of soil taken from a site in Arizona.

The three volunteers are supervised and taught and work with Axel Hungerbuehler, Ph.,D., museum curator.

“I am grateful to have them around,” said Hungerbuehler. “With their help we have gotten work done that probably would not have been done. I work with the volunteers and explain the material to them and tell them that they need to familiarize themselves with the material so they know what they are looking for or examining.”

The three high school teens have accumulated more than 1,000 hours of work while at the museum.

“I like volunteering because I can learn a lot about fossils,” said Runyan. “The hands-on experience is great. We learned a lot from Dr. Hungerbuehler and others who have taken the time to teach us.”

The entire lab is open for volunteers to pursue and expand their knowledge on paleontology. At one station they can examine fossils and petrified wood, at another they can work on carboniferous plant life samples. These are plant fossils found in a coal mine.

The volunteers have also been helping to remove limestone from the fossilized vertebrae of a Apatosaurs which lived in the Jurassic period 150 million years ago. The three also help out in the museum in other ways, such as in the upkeep of the facilities and giving guided tours to guests.

“We are very lucky and privileged to be a part of this,” said Price. “The different types of work that we have access to learn from is great. With all that I have learned here, I can give a tour to a guest and provide answers to the questions they might have.”