Rice Museum of Rocks & Minerals reopens
The Rice Museum of Rocks & Minerals in Hillsboro has reopened, and staff are excited to show off the museum's new exhibits.
The museum, which houses one of the region's most extensive collections of rocks, minerals, fossils, meteorites, gemstones and stone art, reopened Friday, July 10, after a four-month closure due to the coronavirus.
The museum has implemented safety precautions in accordance with public health guidelines and advice from state and national museum associations. People are required to use an online reservation system to schedule their visit in advance while the museum limits the number of people in the building at one time. Museum hours will be noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday during the pandemic.
Despite seeing a 34% reduction in its annual budget and having to lay off nearly all of its employees during the closure, museum staff have been working to make sure visitors would have new exhibits when the museum reopened, said Garret Romaine, director of the museum.
One new exhibit showcases the mineral collection of local geologist turned TV and film producer Bruce Carter.
Carter grew up in New Jersey and Connecticut scouring the landscape for rocks containing colorful crystal structures. He received degrees in geology and volcanology before working for years in mineral exploration across North America. Plummeting mineral prices and technological advancements ended his last expeditions in Alaska.
Carter wound up taking an apprenticeship at the Directors Guild of America, which led him to his current work in TV and film in Portland.
But Carter's mineral collection is still renowned by experts and was exhibited earlier this year at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show.
Romaine is also excited to show a new 3D-printed replica of an ancient sea-going reptile called a thalattosaur, found in central Oregon in 2011 by an amateur paleontologist and his daughter.
"This 230-million-year-old thalattosaur replica is a perfect example of how we've taken advantage of our time," Romaine said about securing the exhibit during the pandemic.
The discovery is notable because Oregon's fossil record is largely devoid of dinosaur-era skeletons, Romaine says.
Thalattosaurs grew up to 15 feet long and lived in shoreline environments between 240 and 220 million years ago — meaning they are not, themselves, dinosaurs — notes Greg Carr, who discovered the fossil remains in a roadcut area of rock while searching for fossils.
Carr named the fossil "Bernie" after Gene and Marian Bernard, who owned the roadcut rock where it was found.
"We found a few bone fragments at the base of the hill and worked out way up," Carr recalled. "When we found the source area, we were amazed."
The fossil remains were difficult to sort out, Carr says. He worked the fossils out over several years, removing one bone at a time with the help of tiny picks, a hand-held air scribe that works like a minuscule jackhammer, and other specialized tools.
Working with other paleontologists, Carr concluded the remains were perhaps made up of several thalattosaur skeletons, commonly referred to as a "death assemblage."
"It was a true labor of love," Carr said. "I probably spent over 4,000 hours preparing about 200 different specimens and 300 fragments. It could take as long as five hours to extract and prepare a single bone." Carr spent much of the time preparing the specimens at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, another recently reopened Portland area museum.
After finishing preparations for the partially complete skeleton, Carr worked with the paleontologists at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the University of Oregon to build out a complete skeleton of over 200 bones.
Carr was able to scan the remains and share the computer files with other researchers so they could 3D-print and assemble the skeleton for display in museums such as the Rice Museum.
"Bernie" is a distant cousin of another recently discovered thalattosaur skeleton found in Alaska that was described in the scientific journal Nature. Carr believes the thalattosaur he discovered are a distinct species from the Alaska specimen. He expects a scientific paper to be published on his discovery.
Romaine says Carr's story can teach students interested in paleontology a lot about the work.
"Any student considering a career in paleontology will learn quite a bit about digging, prepping, and displaying fossils thanks to Greg's work," he said.
Romaine encourages people who still do not wish to visit the museum in person to explore exhibits via a virtual tour, available on the museum's website, and other online educational materials staff have produced during the pandemic.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.