March and April, 2011 – Aurora, North Carolina – The Aurora Fossil Museum

Posted on December 2, 2011

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You can’t help but dig Aurora, North Carolina.

It’s a little old town with just over 500 inhabitants and a block-and-a-half downtown consisting of a handful of vacant buildings.

Probably once a farming town, it’s primary association now is with a local phosphate mine, PCS Phosphate.  Continually under attack from environmentalists alleging wetlands destruction, PCS attracts considerable media attention, thus casting a dark cloud of suspicion of evil deeds over Aurora.

However, every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining, and Aurora’s cloud is no exception.

The PCS Phosphate mine just happens to be the most important source of Pliocene and Miocene fossils in the world, with remains of ancient sharks, whales, bony fish, corals, shellfish and other invertebrates found there in abundance.

Millions of years ago the Coastal Plain of North Carolina was covered by the Atlantic Ocean.  Marine and aquatic remains became layered in the sediment, and over time were fossilized.  Because this area is so important fossil-wise, staff members from the Smithsonian work with PCS employees in the mining operation, which is a rather off-again, on-again endeavor due to complexity the permitting process.

Thanks to PCS, The Aurora Fossil Museum was founded in 1976 as a non-profit educational resource center.  The Museum includes more than 200 scientific and historic exhibits, as well as a gift shop and – the best part – a big pile of dirt out front in which kids of all ages can dig for fossils.

Volunteers prepare common fossils – like shark’s teeth – for sale in the gift shop, while others create one-of-a-kind jewelry to help raise funds for the museum’s programs.

From shark’s teeth to fossilized dinosaur eggs to skeletons of a variety of long-gone creepy-crawlies, it’s pretty hard not to find something interesting here.

Yep, we dig Aurora, North Carolina.

Bill looks for something interesting in the "dig pile".

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