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Geology major digs summer job at Carnegie Museum

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

David Hurey

Pretty much every kid goes through a dinosaur phase. Occasionally, a child will carry his love of dinosaurs through adolescence and into adulthood; some go on to become paleontologists.

In a nutshell, that’s David Hurey’s story. The Mercyhurst University junior recently learned that he has received a $5,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to conduct his own research of Linton fossils at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh this summer.

“I got interested in dinosaurs as a kid and was into all the Jurassic Park movies,” said Hurey, a Pittsburgh native who is studying geology with a concentration in paleontology at Mercyhurst. Eventually, he parlayed his attraction with dinosaurs into volunteering and later working with fossils at the Carnegie Museum.

“I’ve been at the Carnegie Museum since 2009, but always doing somebody else’s work,” he said. “This grant is my chance to be autonomous and do my own research.”

Hurey’s research will focus on the diversity of fossils from a once-active underground coal mine at Linton, Ohio, that has attracted the attention of paleontologists for more than 130 years. Among those paleontologists is Scott McKenzie, director of paleontology at Mercyhurst.

In fact, it was McKenzie who tipped off Hurey to the Linton site, which is only about 45 minutes from his Pittsburgh home. Hurey has excavated fossils there, but the Carnegie collection is largely the result of McKenzie’s excavations. While McKenzie still retains some Linton fossils in his own personal collection, he has donated the bulk of his fossil deposits to the museum.

“The fossils are from a Civil War era coal mine in eastern Ohio that I have been digging at since the early 1980s,” McKenzie said. “The collection contains the earliest animal to walk on two feet, as well as sharks, amphibians and a few of America's earliest reptiles. There are many hundreds of fossils in the collection.”

Hurey is particularly excited to work on the Linton fossils because he wants to draw attention to this source of Upper Carboniferous fishes, amphibians and reptiles that, at 312 million years ago, pre-date the age of dinosaurs.

In fact, that’s actually how he got the grant. One of his superiors at the Carnegie Museum noted his interest in the Linton collection, which was in need of a more thorough processing, including cleaning, identifying and cataloguing. She alerted the ODNR, which made the funds available. Since the Linton fossils originated in Ohio, Hurey will be sharing his findings with ODNR.

Hurey said he is grateful to McKenzie for enlightening him about the Linton fossils, but more so for sharing his passion for paleontology.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get as excited about fossils and rocks as he does,” Hurey said. “Everybody thinks he’s great, and so do I.”