Fossil Hunt Leads University of Chicago Professor to Antarctica

Neil Shubin has traveled the world in search of fossils to help better understand evolutionary origins.

The University of Chicago paleontologist has led expeditions in Canada, Africa, Asia and Greenland, and he’s recently returned from his first-ever fossil hunt in Antarctica.

Shubin says the reason he went to Antarctica hunting fossils was down to the age of the rocks there.

“It turns out the rocks are perfect to find fossils,” says Shubin. “And not just any fossils, some of the earliest fish fossils that tell us about all the major groups of land-living animals today.”

Before going to Antarctica, Shubin and his team – which included an expert mountaineer because of the challenging and at times dangerous terrain – first had to demonstrate they were fit enough physically to handle the conditions.

“The first thing you have to do to physically get there is to physically qualify,” says Shubin. “You have to apply to the U.S. Antarctic program… it took me about 20 visits to the doctor to get physically qualified to go.”

After arriving at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, Shubin and his team then had to spend about 10 days training for the icy conditions and potentially treacherous terrain. The sites where the team searched for fossils were “like the Grand Canyon only filled with ice and glaciers,” Shubin said.

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

  • (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

    (Courtesy of Neil Shubin)

While getting to and working at the exploration site may have been challenging, ultimately Shubin and his team were rewarded by what they found.

“This is one of the most fossil-rich areas I have ever worked in,” said Shubin. “We found small fossils, we found large fossils. We found fossils from all different kinds of fish almost from the first day in the field. It was truly remarkable.”


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