Cooper Center displays OC fossils, artifacts

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Julie Strou, Pamela Harrell and Sharon Avey observe items of the exhibit titled “Keepers of Orange County’s Past: Preserving Our Heritage” on Thursday at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center. (Mimi Hung / Daily Titan)

The John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center held an exhibit titled “Keepers of Orange County’s Past: Preserving Our Heritage,” at the Old Orange County Courthouse on Thursday, displaying human artifacts and fossils from Orange County land.

The exhibit featured many fossils and human artifacts ranging from 180 million years ago to as recent as 50 years ago.

Jere Lipps, director of the Cooper Center and host of the exhibit, explained that the motivation behind the exhibit was to focus on the partnership between Orange County Parks and Cal State Fullerton.

“That partnership is what keeps the Cooper Center going, so we wanted to focus on that and at the same time show some of our better looking artifacts and fossils,” said Lipps.

Lipps added that some of the fossils displayed through six-foot photographs on the exhibit walls help represent the different ways of displaying the most pristine fossils from the Cooper Center—one photograph in particular represents the skull of a saber tooth deer averaging around 40 million years old.

He said that although the Cooper Center has been collecting fossils and artifacts since the 1970s, the Cooper Center began as a partnership in 2009, was opened in 2011 and became fully staffed in 2012.

Pamela Harrell, Orange County Historical commissioner and alumni of CSUF, explained what goes on behind the scenes of the exhibit and how planning for exhibits ultimately started back in the 1990s.

“As a commissioner, we oversee the historic sites throughout Orange County,” said Harrell. “A lot of the inner workings of the things you don’t see like putting on this exhibit right now, the beginnings of it actually start with a commission reviewing that help them get on board with Cal State Fullerton.”

She added that her field of interest is getting the education of Orange County history to children and adults, regardless of what side she is on.

Jeannine Pedersen, the associate curator for archaeology at the Cooper Center, said most of the fossils at the exhibit were marine based, since most of Orange County was under water millions of years ago.

“For fossils, I think the most interesting thing is that they date back over 180 million years of history, and I think a lot of people living in Orange County don’t even consider that,” Pedersen said. “For most of that time we were underwater, so we have a lot of fossil sharks and fossil whales.”

Pedersen explained that the human artifacts displayed at the exhibit such as projectile points and shell beads help provide the center with incentives towards finding more human evidence around Orange County.

“Our oldest site in the collection is about 9,280 years old, but we are pretty certain people were here before that, so one of our big goals is to find that site, that date that brings us back further than that,” Pedersen said. “It’s likely that people were here in the region between 12,000-13,000 years ago.”

Meredith Rivin, the associate curator of paleontology at the Cooper Center, explained how her specific research and interest at the center involves early whales.

“The Cooper Center has a huge variety of mayacine marine mammals, particularly whales and dolphins, but also the panapen seals, sea lions, and walruses,” said Rivin. “I am interested in the ancient ecosystems from the mayacine about 20 million years ago.”

Lipps said he hopes the attendees take away the meaning behind the exhibit’s subtitle, “Preserving our Heritage.”

“That (subtitle) is what we are preserving for people of Orange County, the state and even the world,” said Lipps. “Some of these fossil whales are really important in a world view of whale biodiversity.”

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