Digging for Fossils at Summer Camp

It’s the second Wednesday of July and field trip day for Academy summer campers. We’re on our way to the Big Brook Preserve in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where we will visit the small stream known for its abundant fossils, especially Cretaceous shark teeth.

I’m waiting in the lobby of the Academy with my photo equipment as purple-clad summer campers buzz around me, packing lunches and water shoes into coolers and backpacks. The yellow school bus is outside and soon our camp counselors and campers are on their way. The back of Summer Camp Coordinator Christine (Miss Chris) Danowsky’s car is filled to the brim with tools, buckets, sifters, and other fossil-hunting equipment.

Academy Science Campers hike through the woodsWhen we arrive at Big Brook, the temperature is just nosing past 90 degrees, but the group is quickly into the forest and then the water where it is much cooler. The stream is low, only about 8 inches in its deeper parts. Campers form groups of three and four, a counselor aiding each group. Danowsky and another counselor float between the groups supervising the expedition.

The counselors teach the campers how to find shark tooth fossils. One girl sticks a trowel into the muddy creek bed, shoveling mud onto a sifter held by two boys. A fourth team member then dumps a bucket of water over the contents of the sifter. The mud drains back into the creek, leaving a handful of rocks on the sifter.

Academy Science Camper explores Big Brook Fossil SiteThe campers pick through the rocks, asking the counselors the ever-popular fossil dig question: “Is this a rock or a fossil?” (To the kids’ credit, this was also the most common question on the Academy’s 2016
fossil dig with adults in Montana!)

The kids rotate through the jobs, each one getting to hold the sifter, dig in the mud, and pour water. Older campers and counselors help younger campers carry the sifters to different parts of the stream. Over a dozen shark teeth are found through the day and packaged into plastic bags to return to the Academy. Almost every group has a fossil to take home.

You, too, can join the Academy in the field. Every week of Academy Science Camp for kids ages 5 to 12 features a field trip. This year we’re traveling back to Big Brook and to other destinations to meet live and legendary animals, explore the wilderness, jump into the insect world, and more.

Academy New in 2018! Our Teen Expedition Program takes kids ages 12 to 16 on a daily field trip. Hike through the wilderness to test your survival skills, unearth Cretaceous fossils, row through waterways to collect macroinvertebrates, or use your muscles to scale a rock wall!

Check out ansp.org for more details.

Post and Photos by Mike Servedio

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