Secondary school students continue to be inspired by the excitement of fossil hunting thanks to the annual James Moore Memorial Prize in Palaeontology, which enables them to dig up ancient bones as part of an outback field excursion.
Flinders University Palaeontology Professor Gavin Prideaux reports that the Flinders University Palaeo Society and the Museum of Central Australia recently led a trip to the Alcoota megafauna fossil site, 250km north east of Alice Springs, accompanied by the 2019 winners of the James Moore Memorial Prize – one each from rural and city schools – along with 2018 Memorial Prize winner, Tasman Dixon.
The school students’ passion for engaging with palaeontology underlines the ongoing success of the prize – which was established through the James Moore Memorial Fund in 2015 to honour the memory of a beloved student and technical officer in the Flinders Palaeontology Laboratory who was killed in a 2014 car crash.
This year’s city winner, Antoni Camozzato, a Year 10 student at St Michael’s College, was delighted that the James Moore Memorial Prize enabled him to pursue his dream of participating in a fossil expedition. While he noted that the Alcoota Fossil Beds were a challenging dig for a novice excavator, with fossils clumped together and often shattered into pieces, he found the experience immensely enjoyable.
“The feeling of bringing the ancient remains of long-gone beasts into the light for the first time in 6-to-8 million years is almost indescribable,” says Antoni. “The first fossil I pulled from the ground, the tibia of an Ilbandornis woodburnei (giant flightless bird), was especially special, even if it was a bit fragmented. I just loved being in the central Australian desert, looking over the Mitchell grass plains, following dry riverbeds and sitting under the breathtaking night sky.”
Rural school prize winner Laluloy Bucar, a Year 11 student at Edward John Eyre High School in Whyalla, says she is excited by palaeontology’s analysis and investigation of early life, the environment and geological events. “It gives us a greater understanding of Earth’s history, which is vital to fixing in global issues such as global warming and climate change and its impact on Earth’s biodiversity and physical environment,” says Laluloy.
“Without palaeontology, we would only have a narrow mindset to fix such issues. Sometimes we must look to the past to find our answers.”
Significantly, the students’ participation in the Alcoota excursion has encouraged them to continue palaeontology studies.
“My intention to follow palaeontology as a career is now even stronger,” says Antoni. “I hope to remain involved with Flinders University Palaeo Society and eventually study palaeontology at Flinders University in a few years’ time.”
Laluloy adds the experience will influence her study and career plans. “I still want to continue my career pathway towards medicine, but I feel a gravitational interest in palaeontology. So much so that I am taking geography this semester.”
“The experience I had in Alcoota, learning about Australian megafauna and identifying what bones belonged to which animal, was exhausting, gratifying and fulfilling.”