Allendale Columbia School Students Sleuth for Clues to 10,000 Year Old Mystery

Digging through ancient material provides clues to climate and geology change

Pittsford, NY – (January 3, 2013) Students in Mrs. Tina Duver’s sixth grade science class at Allendale Columbia School are getting hands on with a paleontological “dig” without leaving the classroom. Several pounds of material dug up with the remains of a mastodon that died just as the last Ice Age was ending are being carefully combed through for clues to everything from climate change to human involvement.

The job isn’t as glamorous as Indiana Jones would have us believe. In this case, the material is being painstakingly explored at an almost microscopic level. Allendale Columbia School history teacher, Jay Theuer, who is nearing completion of his Ph.D. in archeology, has been showing the class some archeologist’s tricks of the trade to help students identify what they are finding.

The list of items so far includes water lilies, snail shells, fish teeth, and clams, showing that the mastodon died in a watery environment. They have also have pulled out fragments of hair and ivory, although paleontological researchers will make an official determination of what animal might have left them behind.

The students will be reporting their findings to research organizers through video conferences and blogs. Paleontologists will examine some of the uncovered items, like the hair, with an electron microscope. If the hair turns out to be from the mastodon, it will be one of only a few found in the dig material.

Students are also searching for “debitage” which, in this case, refers to bits of rock flaked off when hunters sharpened their weapons. Research is trying to determine the extent to which human hunters contributed to the extinction of these mammals 10,000-12,000 years ago.

“Paleontology is destructive research. Although specific materials can be saved, the geologic context that contains the majority of information is destroyed during excavation. Once you analyze the collected sediments, you can never go back and do it again. It has to be done right the first time,” said Theuer.

“If the samples are ruined, they can’t be replaced. That makes this a very real experiment” said Head of School, Mick Gee. “This project illustrates the difference between teaching children science and teaching children to be scientists. They’re not the same,” he continued. “Being a scientist gives you an authentic experience where you learn, then try again. It’s a continuous process of building knowledge.”

The project is being conducted in cooperation with the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, NY. Students will continue to probe the material for several weeks before returning their complete findings to the institution.


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About Allendale Columbia School
Now well into its second century, Allendale Columbia is a leading independent co-ed college prep school for students in nursery through grade 12. Here, learning goes far beyond books and tests. We have the freedom to dig deeper so students can question more, discuss, debate, and question again. As a result, our students develop critical thinking skills and become effective problem solvers. Our faculty members use their independence and experience to connect knowledge to real life so our students can make more sense of the world—and their place in it. It all adds up to a different school of thought: high expectations and relevant experiences that prepare students to succeed in a global community. Visit the school’s 33-acre campus at 519 Allens Creek Road in Pittsford or online at For more information about Allendale Columbia’s tradition of excellence, contact 585-381-4560. Allendale Columbia School. First here, then anywhere.

About the Paleontological Research Institution
Founded in 1932, the Paleontological Research Institution has outstanding programs in research, collections, publications, and public education. The Institution cares for a collection of nearly three million specimens (one of the 10 largest in the U.S.), and publishes Bulletins of American Paleontology, the oldest paleontological journal in the Western Hemisphere, begun in 1895. PRI is a national leader in the development of informal (i.e., outside the classroom) Earth science education resources for educators and the general public.

PRI’s Museum of the Earth was established in 2003 to provide the general public with a unique opportunity to explore our world through a mix of natural history displays, interactive science features, and art exhibitions. The museum’s 8,000-square-foot permanent exhibition takes visitors on a journey through 4.5 billion years of history, from the Earth’s origin to the present day. Through hands-on, visual exhibitions and outreach, the Museum of the Earth encourages critical thinking about life on Earth in the past and today, and how our species is affecting the natural world.

PRI and its Museum of the Earth are separate from, but formally affiliated with nearby Cornell University, and interact closely with numerous University departments in research, teaching, and public outreach.