Lakes of fossils: Alabama Museum of Natural History comes to Isabella

Published 4:31 pm Friday, October 13, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

It was like traveling back in time for Isabella elementary students as they listened to an Alabama Museum of Natural History presentation about fossils and what Alabama was like during the age of dinosaurs.

Alycia Sorlie, an education coordinator at the Alabama Museum of Natural History, told students that back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the Isabella community was underwater and much of Alabama was marshland.

Mosasaurs, aquatic reptiles with sharp teeth, were prevalent in the area.

“They had big, powerful tails for swimming, nice fins to help them swim and huge teeth,” Sorlie said. “They even had teeth at the back of their throat.”

She said the mosasaur was one of her favorite animals because the lower jaw of the animal could unhinge to allow them to swallow items larger than their heads.

“They would eat turtles that were as big as cars,” Sorlie said.

Students were able to touch a dinosaur footprint, plant fossils, shell fossils and coal.

“We are all using coal right this second,” Sorlie said. “Every single one of us. Most of the electricity in Alabama comes from coal fired power plants.”

Coal, Sorlie said, is made of “really old, really squished together plants.”

Fossils are often found near coal mines.

“My favorite fossils sometimes are the plants,” Sorlies said.

In addition to plants, fossils can also be bone or shell. One fossil shown during the presentation was of a fern. Sorlie explained that ferns grew much larger during the time of the coal age and grew to be as tall as trees.

Sorlie’s presentation was a part of career week at the school.

Sorlie said her position involves planning and promoting events at the museum, as well as taking displays to schools throughout the state.

“I went to school to be a teacher, and I am getting to use all of those skills that I learned in school to teach, just in kind of different ways,” Sorlie said. “Some days, I am on a river with our museum’s naturalist teaching about the importance of water and the things that live in the rivers and lakes. Sometimes, I am teaching in a forest where we are hiking and showing different plants and animals that live in a forest.”