UT paleontologists rediscovering fossils found in the 1930's

Paleontologists at the University of Texas are digging up some fossils of their own so to speak.

They're finishing up research that was started way back in the 1930's.

Matthew Brown is the Director of Museum Operations for the Texas Paleontology Collections at the Jackson School Museum of Earth History at UT.

Brown says during the WPA (Works Progress Administration) years of the '30s and '40s there was a project that brought a lot of inventory to their shelves.

"So the WPA project put hundreds of Texans to work across the state collecting fossils," Brown said.

Brown says workers excavated in dozens of Texas counties and brought fossils back to Austin encased in what's called "jackets."

"When the fossils were collected they were wrapped up in plaster and burlap in order to protect them just like you put a plaster cast on a broken bone," Brown said.

For decades, many of the fossils found by WPA workers have been in a climate controlled basement on the JJ Pickle Research Campus.

"Over time as research projects have come up, some of them have been opened.  It's a pretty labor-intensive process and so unless you have a specific research question we generally don't open and undertake these big projects," Brown said.

Brown says thanks to some funds recently raised on UT's "Hornraiser" website, undergraduates have been opening up the field jackets and removing the rock around them to expose millions of years of history underneath.

Some of the fossils are 220 million years old.

Students have even found a brand new species of reptile.

"Sometimes you open a jacket and you don't know what's in it and it's like Christmas, you'll find all kinds of new information in there that you didn't expect to find," Brown said.

According to Brown, the point is to open up all of the remaining fossil jackets and put them in museum-quality storage housings. 

"One of our goals is to preserve that data so that researchers, so that the general public can understand how life has changed through time, how we got to where we are now and to gain some insights into maybe where we'll be going in the future," Brown said.