Time Traveling in Ohio: Paleobiology in the Field

At 6 AM on a chilly November Saturday, Professor Eric Holdener’s Paleobiology class gathers in Peirce Dining Hall to grab a quick breakfast before hitting the road for our fossil collecting field trip. The entire class fits comfortably in one Kenyon van: me in the front, Sean Deryck ’18 and Jessie Griffith ’19 in the middle and Sarah Dendy ’19 and Nontokozo Mdluli 18′ in the back. Once we get about 5 miles out of campus, everyone in the back is dozing, and Professor Holdener and I listen to NPR and discuss the geology of the landscapes we pass. We stop once along the way to pick up some fossil fuel for the van, laughing as we acknowledge the irony.

It’s safe to say that Professor Holdener’s Biology 253: Paleobiology, fills a specific niche in the biology department. For some of us proud paleobiology students, we’ve been searching for trilobites and Australopithecine remains in our backyards for years, and for others it’s a convenient way to fill their environmental distribution requirement within the molecular biology major. But the field of paleobiology is truly a mosaic of the natural sciences, combining chemistry and geology with physiology, ecology, and evolution; there’s something for everyone’s curiosity. The course is advertised as a lecture, but Professor Holdener wants us to apply our knowledge to concrete examples and a lot of our class time is spent in the geology lab, analyzing and identifying specimens from his extensive personal collections. We are interested not only in what organisms are in the rock but how they were preserved and how they lived, using the scant fossil evidence and paleobiology publications as our guides, particularly the official Ohio fossils manual.

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Professor Holdener searches for fossils at Oakes Quarry, once a Silurian reef bed.

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