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Digging for History

What can we learn from old bones and rocks? We asked Advait Jukar, who studies them for a living. 

Courtesy of Advait Jukar

Hard at Work
Advait uses a brush to carefully dust off a fossil. He later learned it was a 75-million-year-old dinosaur bone! (The picture below shows what the animal might have looked like.)

Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo 

    Have you ever wondered why elephants have tusks? Why birds fly? These are questions we can answer thanks to paleontologists like Advait Jukar [ad-VYT ZOO-kuhr]. He works at Yale University and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 

    As a paleontologist, Advait studies fossils—parts of dead plants or animals that have been preserved in rocks. They teach him what life was like on Earth long ago. They also hold clues to what the world could look like in the future. We talked to Advait about his fascinating job.

Mark Brandon/ 

Did you always want to be a paleontologist?

    I always knew I’d work in a museum one day. I loved collecting rocks and shells when I was a kid. 

What’s a typical day like?

    I look at all kinds of fossils and measure them. Then I use a computer to study this information and write about what I find. We have fossils from over 200 years of research. There are still a lot of exciting discoveries to make!

What can you learn by studying fossils?

    We can usually tell how much an animal weighed just by looking at its teeth or skull. Fossils can also tell us why certain animals have become extinct, or died out. This helps us learn how to keep animals from going extinct in the future.

What’s the best part of your job?

    I love going out to dig for fossils and finding one! It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s like picking up a piece of history that nobody knows about yet.

Are there any challenges?

Yes! Studying fossils is like doing a puzzle with missing pieces. When you find a fossil, it’s rare to find the entire animal. It could just be a piece of a leg. 

What would you say to teens who want to be paleontologists?

    Be curious. Notice things in the natural world and ask questions. Where did these plants come from? Why do those animals look the way they do? Make a guess, then go out and look for answers! •

Mini Skills Workout

The author describes a fossil as something that has been preserved in rocks. What do you think preserved means?

What’s one thing Advait says he loved as a kid?  

Find a sentence in which Advait explains what studying fossils can teach you. Write it on a separate sheet of paper.

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