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By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Staff
When most kids head off on their summer vacations, it’s to collect fun experiences and bond with their families. For Westwood’s Andrew Easton, the summer jaunt may have come with an unexpected surprise: a career calling. Easton, a rising third-grader at the Martha Jones School, discovered a fossil during a hike at Badlands National Park, further stoking his interest in paleontology.
“We traveled to South Dakota - Badlands, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore - during the 100th anniversary of the US National Park system,” said Dr. Scott Easton, Andrew’s father. “Our children … enjoyed the amazing Presidential carvings at Mt. Rushmore, the bison crossing in front of our vehicle in Custer Park and the Black Hills, and the hiking and spectacular views at the Badlands National Park.”
It was Andrew’s view of something a bit smaller that turned the vacation on its head, though.
“My sister, Yvette, and I were walking the Fossil Trail and playing on a big rock,” said Andrew. “My sister said: ‘Do you see that bright white thing?’ I said, ‘I think it’s a fossil.’ So I asked my mom to take a picture of it and we showed it to a Park Ranger at the Visitor Center.”
“Prior to the hike on the Fossil Trail, we attended an educational session at the Ranger Station with instructions on how to proceed if you think you discovered a fossil,” said Dr. Easton. “During the hike, Andrew excitedly asked us to take a photo to document the unusual formation. To be honest, we didn’t believe him at first. But because of his enthusiasm, we took the photo and then filed a report.” Several weeks later, “we received an email from Mr. Jacob Van Veldhuzen, a physical science technician in the paleontology lab at the center. He indicated that after an investigation, the team concluded that Andrew had indeed found a fossilized dung beetle ball called Pallichnus, dating back approximately 32-33 million years!”
“I felt like a real paleontologist,” gushed Andrew. “I felt very happy and excited.”
“We try to feed into his curiosity by visiting places on vacations like museums, zoos, and national parks. We also support his interests by allowing him to keep all of the rocks he brings home from school in his lunchbox or pockets,” said Dr. Easton of his son’s burgeoning scientific career.
As for Westwood’s youngest paleontologist, the discovery appears to be just the first of many. “I like to find cool rocks near my house and school,” Andrew confirmed.
“He’s a thoughtful, joyful child. We’re proud,” Dr. Easton said. “He carries around a sly smile in the house and occasionally asks ‘Do you know I discovered a fossil?’”