phd student

PhD student Laura Termes has made some incredible discoveries about the types of animals that once roamed the Okanagan, all from bones in the Penticton Museum’s collection.

Working in collaboration with the Penticton museum, a PhD student from Simon Fraser University is uncovering secrets of the Okanagan.

Laura Termes was thrilled to hear back from six museums across the South and Central Okanagan, one being the Penticton Museum, as a part of the B.C. Megafauna project.

“The interesting thing about museums is over time, they accumulate so many mystery objects,” said Termes.

And the Penticton museum happens to have one: a bone, which could either be a mammoth bone, or a whale bone.

Bone collagen extracted from samples Termes took will be sent to the University of Ottawa for radiocarbon dating, and isotope analysis will be done at SFU.

If the bone happens to be mammoth, Termes said research through carbon dating and isotope analysis could teach scientists so much more about ice age animals in B.C.

“Isotopes are really cool, because you can look at the fine grain things in the animal’s life,” she said. “Their diet, what their environment was like and perhaps how they moved around the environment.

“This is the first of this kind in British Columbia, and we don’t know very much about ice age animals. It’s really patchy. It’s been really well done in the Yukon, Alberta and Washington, but B.C. has kind of been this weird zone.”

And discovering which types of animals the bones belonged to and when they roamed the Okanagan could help in outlining a glacial map, said Termes, to show which areas of B.C. were livable after the Ice Age.

“The likely explanation is that they were there prior to the ice expanding in the area, and so they were kind of pushed out, and once the ice retreated – our question is, did they come back into the area? Or were there perhaps pockets that remained ice-free and were there remnant populations of ice age mammals hanging out there?”

Termes says further research shows the possibility of whale bones discovered in Penticton were only found because humans left them in the water.

“After I visited … the Penticton museum, I went to a local bookshop,” she explained. “Looking at the Okanagan Historical Society publications, and I came across a 1945 article that talked about a whale bone found in Okanagan Lake. Basically the conclusion was, it got there from human agency.”

And because the bone looks so “modern,” she added, evidence shows it couldn’t be an ancient whale.

But that’s not to say that same bone discovered in 1945 is the same one, or a part of the same whale, of the bone Termes took samples from in Penticton.

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