I Found a Fossil!


I think dinosaurs are terrific! My mom says I’ve been crazy about them ever since I could talk. I can’t always visit the museum or library when I want to, so I go on lots of pretend dinosaur hunts. Then I make a museum in the backyard. When my family and friends visit my museum, I tell them all about these wonderful animals.

Other prehistoric creatures roam my backyard too. I dig holes in the dirt and fill them with water so the woolly mammoths and sabertoothed tigers can have a drink at my tar pit.

One day my backyard games turned into the real thing. I was digging a tar pit in the garden when my shovel clanked on something buried underground. I bent down to see what it was and I came up with a hard brown rock about the size of my fist.

I couldn’t wait to show somebody what I had, and I ran into the house calling, “A fossil! I found a fossil!”

“Take that dirty dog bone back outside,” Mom said.

So I did. I pulled some picnic benches together and set up my museum workshop. I knew just what to do because I had watched the scientists through the glass wall at the Page Museum. The equipment I needed was under the kitchen sink: a scrub brush, a towel, a container for water.

I went to work cleaning my discovery. With the brush and water I scrubbed off most of the garden soil. I dried it with a towel. It was smooth and dark brown with two bumps on one end. The other end looked like it had been broken.

It was a wonderful fossil. I played museum with it until dinnertime. This time when I took it into the house Mom didn’t say no. And the next morning she told me she had looked at my fossil while I was sleeping. “I’m sorry I called it a dog bone,” Mom said. “It really does look rather unusual.”

Then she called the page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. She described what I had found in the backyard, and the man asked her to bring it in for him to examine.

So the next Saturday our family drove to the museum. We met the man my mom had talked to on the phone. I showed him my fossil. He showed it to another man, and I thought he said, “Bison.” Then he looked at me and said, “I think you’ve found something, son.”

The man took us into a room on the other side of the glass wall. There were rows and rows of big gray drawers. He pulled open a drawer and brought out a fossil that matched mine and another one that was longer than my arm.

“You have found part of a rib bone of a Bison Antiquus,” he said. “This long one is what the entire bone looks like.”

He told me that the Bison Antiquus is an extinct relative of our American buffalo and that an ancient Indian tribe used to hunt the Bison Antiquus in what is now Southern California. I closed my eyes and tried to picture all this happening in my own backyard thousands of years ago.

“Before you leave, be sure to take a look at the skeleton of the entire Bison Antiquus in the exhibit area,” the man said.

My mom asked him what we should do with my fossil. And he said to take it home and save it, because someday I might be a paleontologist who studies fossils.

We said good-bye and he shook my hand. “Keep up the good work,” he told me.

And I have. I still play museum in my backyard. Sometimes friends come over to help me dig because they heard about my fossil on the six o’clock television news. But mostly I play with my little brother, Jeff.

The other day Jeff found something in the dirt, and I knew it was a fossil. We showed it to Mom and she promised to take us back to the museum soon. I wonder what this fossil is. It sort of looks like it came from a sea animal.

When I grow up I want to learn all about prehistoric animals. Then when I find a fossil, maybe I’ll have a real museum and can figure out what it is all by myself.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Fred Harrison