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MailTribune.com
  • Rock star takes center stage

    'Pterry the pterosaur' makes himself at home at Central Point museum
  • The Crater Rock Museum has a new guard in its entry, a skeleton that is an exact replica of a flying reptile that lived more than 100 million years ago.
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    • Fossil treasures at the Crater Rock Museum
      Real dinosaur eggs from China
      • A 3-foot-long femur from a hydrosaur
      • Fossilized palm leaf from Colorado that no scientist has been able to classify
      • Mastodon tusk unearthed ...
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      Fossil treasures at the Crater Rock Museum
      Real dinosaur eggs from China

      • A 3-foot-long femur from a hydrosaur
      • Fossilized palm leaf from Colorado that no scientist has been able to classify
      • Mastodon tusk unearthed in Medford in 1950
      • Gavialosuchus (crocodile) skull, about 40 million years old
      • A roomful of fossilized wood, much of it unearthed in Jackson County




      — Source: Stephen Miller, curator, Crater Rock Museum
  • The Crater Rock Museum has a new guard in its entry, a skeleton that is an exact replica of a flying reptile that lived more than 100 million years ago.
    Suspended from the ceiling is "Pterry the pterosaur," whose "bones" were cast from actual fossils.
    "He's not a pterodactyl — a bird," says geologist Len Eisenburg. "Pterry is a flying reptile."
    Eisenburg recently purchased and donated the pterosaur kit to the museum not long after his first visit since a major museum remodel that concluded in 2010. When he walked in the door, he immediately visualized Pterry's perch.
    "It catches people's eye, swooping down on you," Eisenburg adds. "Images like these are all over the media."
    Eisenburg is a retired geologist with a passion for science education. He's the designer of the Briscoe Geology Park at the former Briscoe Elementary School in Ashland, the Climb Through Time interactive climbing wall at the ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland, and the History Walk at the recently opened Oregon Hills Park in east Medford.
    "We can use this to help kids get interested in science," Eisenburg says. "So many political issues today are science-based."
    Pterry will have his official christening on Feb. 15 when Eisenburg will lead four 40-minute talks throughout the day. Pterry will soon become part of the tours the museum offers to school groups.
    At the end of several rooms filled with mineral exhibits lies the museum's fossil room, home of many antediluvian treasures. At the back of this room is a plate-glass window where visitors can watch scientists cleaning fossils with the museum's new hi-tech sandblasting unit.
    The sandblaster consists of two parts. The first unit, the size of a small suitcase, forces abrasive material under pressure through a tube that leads to the second, larger unit. This unit is large enough for a scientist to insert both hands through thick rubber gloves in the side. The top is transparent, the unit hermetically sealed to prevent microscopic dust particles from escaping.
    It resembles a device more often seen in science fiction movies.
    "Most of our fossils will be hand-scraped," says Stephen Miller, the museum's curator. "But if bone comes off first, we may use something fine, like baking soda or soda ash, instead of sand because sand is more abrasive. We call this microblasting."
    Miller already has his first project lined up for the end of February, the date the sandblaster is scheduled to be fully operational. Against the far wall is a wooden box, 3 feet to a side, bearing the words, "Made in China."
    Perhaps a better wording would be "Unearthed in China."
    "This is a psittacosaurus," says Miller of the huge rock slab with bone fragments protruding at many angles. "It's for display, not for research."
    The psittacosaurus is a dinosaur the size of a coyote. It lived in what is today China, Mongolia and Russia, between 100 million and 125 million years ago.
    Research in this laboratory is not out of the question, Miller says, adding that he sees the sandblaster as an opportunity for younger scientists.
    "I would like to get students from SOU and RCC to get hands-on experience, to do research," Miller says. "It's not all for research. Maybe even a high school student who needs a senior project."
    In line with the museum's emphasis on education, Miller is happy to schedule demonstrations for school groups.
    "Some museums, you see guys with microscopes, but that's the extent of it," says Miller. "Here, people can look through the window and watch the sand blasting."
    Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Email him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.
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