Corsicana Daily Sun
by Sierrah Sowell
August 2, 2018
Thomas Vance proudly displaying the Mosasaur reptile head. Photo by Sierrah Sowell, Daily Sun.
Children aren’t the only ones interested in dinosaurs. As crowds pack theaters to see the new Jurassic World film, dinosaurs are a timeless pique of interest for all ages.
Dinosaurs are not only found on excotic islands or far-away locations, they can be found right in your backyard.
At the invitation of Rotarian Heidi Ebbett, Thomas Vance, a professor of biology at Navarro College and Christy Barham were guest speakers last Wednesday at the Corsicana Rotary Club, discussing their recent finds and displaying the skull of a sea monster, a Mosasaur.
In addition to his work as a professor, Vance is an archeologist and has had several of his research manuscripts published in official scientific journals.
The Mossasaur dig began after a local resident found bones on their property and wanted to get a better understanding of their exact origins. Vance was contacted to come out to the site and look for more bones or the possible excavation site of bone discoveries. After determining the land had the possibility of more finds, Vance then began a controlled-dig.
Many digs have been occurring around Navarro County including Dawson, Emhouse, Frost, Lone Oak and Blooming Grove. At the Blooming Grove site, which is being excavated currently, some of the Mosasaur bones were uncovered.
“This is a part of history,” Vance said. “We have great sources in these property owners and the use of their land for our discovery.”
After finding the bones on-site, Vance and his team of volunteers first map and photograph the discovery. They identify the bones, clean around them and then excavate them to be transferred for further research.
Margaret Alfaro, a volunteer on the site of the Frost dig, has enjoyed her time being involved in the project.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to spend a morning with Mr. Vance and his colleagues searching for fossils in Frost,” Alfaro said. “Being at the dig site and making the connection that these creatures roamed our planet thousands of years ago is exciting to read about in books and see in movies, but takes it to another level when you are witnessing a fossil being discovered and dug up first-hand, right before your eyes,” she said.
Currently, one of the full Mosasaur skeletons discovered in Navarro County is on display in the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History. The skull of the Dawson Mosasaur is displayed in the museum as well.
The Mosasaur reptile is a sea monster that was alive during the Cretaceous period and lived in Europe and North America. This creature was an enormous aquatic lizard and could grow to over 50 feet in length. Its teeth were sharp for debilitating most of its prey from shelled animals to most other aquatic life. The Mosasaur was also cannibalistic, eating its own kind on occasion. These creatures are ancestors of the komodo dragon.
At the time it was alive the United States would not have been above ground as it is today.
“To get a better idea,” Vance said, “imagine if Reunion Tower in Dallas were completely submerged underwater, that’s almost how deep it would have been.”
Vance enjoys his work for three main reasons.
“I love the discovery, the research I get to perform and the comradery of being out and making an impact with my fellow archeologists,” he said.
While discovering bones from the Mosasaur has been a success in Vance’s paleontology research, his career-defining moment came after his discovery of a mammoth from the Ice Age period named Ellie May.
“Ellie was the most rewarding discovery I have found to date,” he said. “She was a Colombian mammoth that was found fully intact and in wonderful preservation conditions.”
Ellie May was given her name as she was founded in Ellis county in the month of May in 2014. She was identified as a female by her hip structure and was between 18 to 20 years old. After her discovery she was put on display in the Perot Museum in Dallas.
While doing his work and research Vance says the goal remains the same during these investigations.
“We want to find and excavate as many bones as possible to add to our knowledge of the past and to help us learn from it,” he said.