Fishing trip leads to a collection of fossils

Man's finds help educate students who struggle in traditional classrooms

October 09, 2004|By Linda Florea | Linda Florea,ORLANDO SENTINEL

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - While looking for a good spot to fish, Richard Furnari discovered more than bass at a stream near a construction site in Florida a couple years ago.

Fossils lying in the mud near the water ultimately led him to a Columbian mammoth tooth.

Since then, the Lakeland, Fla., man has discovered a cache of animal remains dating to the Ice Age - including the woolly mammoth tooth - at the stream leading into the Braden River near Bradenton, Fla.

Furnari's finds include equine teeth, American camel teeth, bison teeth, manatee rib bones and the creme de la creme, a complete Columbian mammoth tooth.

"I was looking for a place to fish," said Furnari, a satellite technician. "Sometimes I pull over and take a break at the end of the day."

Most of the original find had washed toward the river and was lying on the mud.

Furnari took the fossils to Pangea Institute, a Winter Haven, Fla., group that focuses on science and paleontology and works with young people - sixth-graders through college age - who have trouble learning in traditional school settings. Students are active in fossil digs in Central Florida.

"Finding a complete tooth is not totally rare," said Scott Marlowe, a founder of the institute and its events coordinator, who added that the mammoth tooth was found in four pieces.

"But having the complete tooth is great when we're going to teach kids and explain how things work. For us, it's a massive find."

Furnari found the fossils in an area known as Bone Valley, named for its many fossil finds. Phosphate-mining operations in the Peace River basin, stretching from Lakeland south to Zolfo Springs and into Florida's Hillsborough and Manatee counties, have contributed to a lot of fossil finds since the late 1800s, experts say.

Mammoths started appearing 30 million years ago and died out about 10,000 years ago. They were about 9- 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed about 3 tons. The tooth that was found is about 12 inches long and 14 inches in diameter. Woolly mammoths had four each.

Furnari's fossil collection and other fossils discovered by Pangea students, mostly in Bone Valley, will be on display at the Winter Haven library throughout October. The exhibit will then go to Florida Keys Community College for a three-month showing.

Hulbert said even though collectors have been digging in Bone Valley for more than 120 years, there are still new discoveries of animal species in the area.

"I've turned into a bone digger," Furnari said. "Everywhere I go, I tear up the grounds. You'd be surprised how much there is out there."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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