Biology teacher has a bone to pick with awareness
Dave Ellingson hopes to increase interest in Woodburn's rich archaeological finds
A new natural history exhibit displaying some of the bones of extinct Ice Age fauna discovered in Woodburn over the years was unveiled last week on the second floor of the Woodburn Public Library.
The exhibit features the bones of animals as small as a turtle and as large as a bison antiquus (sometimes called the ancient bison) an extinct ancestor of the living American bison. Also on display are the remains of creatures that would seem strange today, like the giant ground sloth and the North American camel.
The bones and species are identified and described in colorful displays made by Woodburn High School students through the Oregon State University-sponsored SMILE (Science & Math Investigative Learning Experiences) Club.
The project was the brainchild of Dave Ellingson, high school biology teacher and SMILE club adviser, who worked for a year to assemble the bones that would go in the exhibit.
What I wanted to do was something for people to come and see, he said. I wanted to provide the community the opportunity to see the different bones that have been found in Woodburn.
The first bones (the term Ellingson prefers to fossils, since none of the bones are old enough to have actually fossilized) were discovered in 1987, when routine sewer line work along Mill Creek near the high school turned up remains that University of Oregon paleontologist William Orr identified as Pleistocene mammals.
Subsequent digs along Mill Creek and in Legion Park by the Institute for Archaeological Studies, Center for the Study of First Americans and OSU determined that Woodburn sits atop a gold mine of Ice Age history thanks to an ancient bog that can be found about six feet beneath the surface in some areas. The bog layers contain the amazingly preserved remains of plants and animals.
Were able to get a lot of information about what Woodburn was like thousands of years ago just from looking at these critters, said Ellingson, who started leading student digs with the help of the Public Works Department in 2003.
The bones have been publicly displayed many places over the years, including at City Hall and the high school. But Ellingson said he wanted an exhibit that was more visible and easily accessible to the public locally; hence, the new display at the library.
Orr joined Ellingson for the unveiling Wednesday, as did Woodburn Community Services Director Jim Row and a number SMILE club members.
I think its really interesting that we actually have this stuff in Woodburn, and a lot of people dont know about it, said Angelica Ruiz, a senior who has participated in SMILE for three years.
This project was just like going to U of O or going to a museum, said junior Sarahi Velasco, in her first year with the club. I used to think science wasnt really my future, but I ended up really liking working with the bones and learning how old everything is and where they go.
Many of the bones found since 1987 are on display at the University of Oregons Museum of Natural and Cultural History, including the only remnants to have ever been discovered of Teratornis woodburnensis an extinct species of enormous bird that is, so far, unique to the Woodburn area. Ellingson said he took several of the students to see the Woodburn bones on display at the U of O museum in preparation for building this exhibit.
Row said he was impressed by the students work on the library display, and he hopes their desire to highlight the natural history of Woodburn is catching. Both he and Ellingson said they would like to see the citys archaeological finds continue to have greater prominence and visibility in the community.
Hopefully, this is the start of something bigger, Row said.