Fossils and Clay


The Western Science Center. Photos by Brody Salazar.

The Western Science Center. Photos by Brody Salazar.

From rolling clay to gluing fossils together, the interns of the Western Science Center Arturo Fuerte and Kimberly Ibarra have a variety of tasks to perform. Fuerte and Ibarra often alternate between the two tasks, depending on how busy the museum is. Much of what the interns do involves what they describe as “floor work.”

Floor work is a daily activity that refers to work done in the museum and often requires rolling clay, speaking to guests and helping children find casts of fossils that are buried in small pits of sand.

Kimberly Ibarra.

Kimberly Ibarra.

Although Ibarra is not fond of the time spent there, Fuerte claims he views the floor work as “putting in your dues.” He claims to “understand” floor work must be done in order for them to do lab work.

“They’re a nonprofit,” says Fuerte, “and not as many people are interested in working on the floor… It would be a lot better working in the lab, but like I said, I understand.”

When the interns are not busy with floor work, they spend their time in the lab going through the process of piecing together fossils.

They receive fossils that are numbered based on the number of fossils there are. The interns do paperwork before, during and after piecing them back together. They must then clean them as best they can while remaining gentle, often using a brush and water for dirt that is close to the fossil. After the fossils have been cleaned, the are glued back together. Fuerte states:

Arturo Fuerte.

Arturo Fuerte.

“It’s like the hardest puzzle you’ve probably ever done.”

Arturo describes it as something they get to regularly do, provided there are little to no guests. If there is a small amount of guests, the interns can prepare the fossils but have to go back on the floor around every 15 minutes to clean up the mess children made.

“As you can imagine,” says Fuerte, “you know, you might not have all the pieces [of fossil] there, or some pieces might be really small. You’ll never be able to--I don’t know about never because there are some very talented people--in my case, at least, I would never be able to put something like that together.”

Although Fuerte is a geology major, he finds there are certain aspects of the internship that will help him in his chosen field. For instance, identifying the age of a fossil found in a layer of rock can be a faster method than counting strata.

“My major’s geology… I never really had an interest in paleontology. I wouldn’t do it as a career, but I definitely have more of an appreciation for what they do because it’s really difficult,” says Fuerte.