Guest Blog: Courtland’s Summer Internship

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Prepping a shark tooth via pin vice

My name is Courtland Lyle, and I am a rising senior at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I am pursuing a double major in both geology and biology and wish to study paleontology on a graduate level in the near future. I have always loved prehistoric life. I would describe myself as the kind of person who was a dino-nut as a child and never grew out of that interest – if anything, that passion has grown. Now I know that there is so much more to paleontology than just dinosaurs. In fact, my love of Cenozoic mammals has surpassed my love of dinosaurs.


I have volunteered with the museum on several prior occasions – once at the museum itself, and twice at the quarry in Carmel Church. However, this is what I’ll call my first “serious” internship at the museum. I began my internship here on May 24th and get to stay through the end of July. I have been working in the paleontology department under the supervision of the museum’s Assistant Curator of Paleontology, Dr. Alex Hastings. Dr. Hastings has tasked me with the project of cleaning, identifying, and ultimately cataloguing the museum’s vast collection of unprocessed shark teeth from Carmel Church. I have to admit it’s a daunting task, especially given the fact that they have literally thousands of teeth for me to go through. However, as overwhelming as the project may seem at times, I still plan on making a sizeable dent in the amount of teeth yet to be catalogued.

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Sorted Shark teeth from Carmel Church

Also, Dr. Hastings has asked for my help in preparing roughly 300 more shark teeth for an event for some of the local governor’s school students. During the course of the event, the students will be sorting through boxes of about 50 teeth and, with the help of an ID guide, identifying the sharks that each tooth came from. In order to properly identify the teeth, they need to be cleaned quite thoroughly.

In addition to all the shark work, Dr. Hastings has allowed me to pursue my own research project. This project involves cleaning, reconstructing, and describing one of their Carmel Church whales. The whale I’m working on is quite fragmented, but does include some features vital to its identification, such as ear bones and posterior skull material. However, the most exciting thing is that this may be an entirely new species!

I can’t begin to put into words how lucky I feel to be able to have this opportunity. I have already learned so much in just three weeks, and I can only imagine how much more I will learn over my remaining seven weeks here.

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Posterior section of the whale skull (left) compared to a cast of the end of a different whale skull (right)


About Alex

I started as the Assistant Curator of Paleontology at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in July of 2015. It's been a fun ride so far, with many more projects on the horizion. My background is in fossil reptiles, especially crocodiles and their kin. Here in Virginia, I've also been getting to know the fascinating world of fossil insects, sharks, and the ice age.
This entry was posted in Carmel Church Chondrichthyans, Carmel Church mysticetes, Carmel Church Quarry, Vertebrate Paleontology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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