Student develops new fossil exhibit for Blount Scholars Program

The course Paleontology and Society (BUI 301) has been taught through the selective liberal arts Blount Scholars Program for undergraduate students since 2021 by Dr. Adiel Klompmaker, UA Museums’ Curator of Paleontology. Additionally, several students have taken the new Blount Scholars museum internship (BUI 399) focusing on various aspects of paleontology such as curation, exhibit development, and research.

Kyrsten Myrup excavating a mosasaur vertebra (circled) at Harrell Station.
Kyrsten Myrup excavating a mosasaur vertebra (circled) at Harrell Station.

During the last couple of years of the course, students visited and collected fossils at key sites in Alabama while also interacting with avocational paleontologists. The classic Harrell Station Paleontological Site, where exciting Cretaceous-aged fossils can be found, is one of these sites. Here, undergraduate student Brianna Day discovered rare mosasaur bones during the Spring 2022 semester. Other sites are the coal-age rocks from the famous Stephen C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site (Union Chapel Mine) and an outcrop with similar-aged rocks on the UA campus.

Kyrsten Myrup showing off the new mosasaur exhibit.
Kyrsten Myrup showing off the new 6 by 2.5’ exhibit.

Kyrsten Myrup has both taken the course (Spring 2021) and this internship (Fall 2023). As one of the projects for her internship, she developed a new exhibit based on the fossils found at these sites during the course field trips and her internship. These fossils are part the Alabama Museum of Natural History paleontology collection, and include mosasaur bones, clams, worms, shark and bony fish teeth, leaves, and bony fish vertebrae. For this exhibit, she worked under the guidance of Dr. Klompmaker, while Madeline Burkhardt, Research Outreach Coordinator at the Alabama Museum of Natural History, also provided input and help.

“I’m so happy I had the opportunity to take Dr. Klompmaker’s Paleontology and Society class as a part of my Blount coursework,” Kyrsten said. “It helped to rekindle a love of paleontology which I had as a child and opened the door for further volunteer and research opportunities culminating in my internship this semester. For me, this exhibit provided a way to combine my love of science and storytelling while helping others learn about Alabama’s unique paleontological record. I also hope it helps other students realize how many opportunities there are to get involved with paleontology here at UA.”

Seven vertebrae of the mosasaur Tylosaurus next to a small mosasaur model
Seven vertebrae of the mosasaur Tylosaurus that Kyrsten and Dr. Klompmaker excavated at Harrell Station for the exhibit.

Dr. Klompmaker said: “Fossils inspire so many people including students globally, but they have great, often underestimated societal significance too. It’s great to have a part of the very rich fossil heritage of Alabama showcased in different places on campus, in addition to Smith Hall and Mary Harmon Bryant Hall.”

The new exhibit was finalized on Friday 8 December 2023 near the entrance of Oliver-Barnard Hall, where many classes in the Blount Scholars Program are being taught currently.

Earlier this year during the annual Alabama’s National Fossil Day celebration event on 28 October, a new mosasaur exhibit including original bones and a full reconstruction of the skull were unveiled. This exhibit can be visited in the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall.