Cynthia Crane has been looking for fossils since she was a child, searching among the stones in her Newark, Ohio driveway.
The Knightdale resident has reached high with that dream, becoming the director of the Aurora Fossil Museum this year and presenting fossil findings at the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference.
From Nov. 5-8 she presented on the fauna of North Carolina at the 74th annual conference in Berlin, Germany. In 2012, she was an invited speaker at the conference held in Raleigh.
Crane originally studied computer science at Coastal Carolina Community College, but says that paleontology was her love. So she transferred to East Carolina University in 2005 and studied geology.
She joined the N.C. Fossil Club in 1998 and her love of paleontology, the study of ancient life through fossils, grew. Four years later, she became president of the club, which at the time had 350 members as the second largest paleontologist hobby club in East Coast. The club focuses on educating the public about fossils through outreach events.
After she earned her master’s degree and completed a thesis on paleontology, in 2011, Crane worked as an assistant to a senior geologist at N.C. Geological Survey.
While there, she studied coastal plain research, including cores, deep samples of layered earth to determine ocean and river sediments and what they say about what the coast has looked like in the past.
“I just enjoy finding something that’s been preserved for millions of years waiting for someone to discover,” Crane said. “I like looking for something that’s happened in the past, because you can decipher what may happen in the future.”
She cited issues like rising sea levels as one of her areas of study.
“In the natural world, history repeats itself, too,” she said.
During the conference, Crane presented her findings on the fauna of North Carolina during the Cretaceous Period – as far back as 145 million years ago – specifically in Elizabethtown.
She focused on the Miocene and Pliocene Fauna, which relate to fossils in the ocean. In order to present, her abstract on the topic had to pass through five blind peer-reviews – scientists reading her anonymous paper.
With her work in North Carolina, she can compare the newly discovered data about fossils from a similar age with other areas on the east coast, comparing it to data collected nationwide and internationally.
“The coastal plain in North Carolina is very dynamic – can change on multiple scales, even hourly,” she said.
This summer, she was hired as the new director for the Aurora Fossil Museum.
The museum was initially built in 1976 to show off the treasure trove of fossils found by miners at Aurora’s PotashCorp phosphate mine. According to the museum’s website, the mine is considered the most important source of Pliocene and Miocene fossils in the world. These fossils varied from whales to sharks to birds, and attracted paleontologists internationally.
Crane said working at the museum has helped her “see the bridge connecting the scientific world and the hobbyist world.”
“It’s predominantly run by hobbyists and people who just love fossils,” Crane said. “It has a lot of charm and a lot of heart because of that. Everyone that goes there has a sense of belonging.”
Averaging around 20,000 unique visitors a year, the museum reaches tens of thousands of people through presentations and outreach.
“What’s rewarding to me...is knowing that I’ve possibly made an impact on someone, that I’ve sparked or reinforced that interest in science. Maybe one kid will end up being a paleontologist,” she said.
To learn more about the Aurora Fossil Museum, visit http://www.aurorafossilmuseum.com/ or call (252) 322-4238.