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Donor visits Da Vinci Academy museum where fossils are displayed
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Dr. Steve Nicklas and Darla Roberts are responsible for bringing this mossasaur fossil to the Da Vinci Academy museum in Gainesville. - photo by Kristen Oliver

Darla Roberts has loved dinosaurs since she was 6 years old.

Friday, she visited the triceratops fossil named after her, and which she donated to Da Vinci Academy in Gainesville last year.

“I was the 6-year-old in the first grade back in my home town in Illinois who had an incredible interest in dinosaurs, and there was only one book on dinosaurs in the entire first grade library,” Roberts said. “I always had that checked out and I pored over it.”

Roberts paid for the excavation of the triceratops “Darla” after meeting Da Vinci and University of North Georgia professor Dr. Steve Nicklas on an excavation trip.

Nicklas said he has been taking families out west to collect fossils for almost 20 years. Anything they find that is not scientifically significant or part of another fossil, they can keep.

Scientifically significant fossils are excavated by Nicklas and UNG students, he said, with the help of investors.

“Darla is responsible for everything being here,” Nicklas said. “I’ve had investors in the past who are responsible for other fossils being other places, but this is Darla’s house. She basically covers the cost of getting it out of the ground and the cost of preparing it.”

Roberts agreed to donate the 22-foot fossil and several others to the museum at the Da Vinci Academy after hearing of it from Nicklas.

“This school is the type of school who would seize the opportunity to do something like this for their kids, so it just matched up,” Roberts said.

Cindy White, Da Vinci museum director, said Darla the triceratops was installed at the end of last year. Students learned to become museum docents to share the fossil collection with the community.

I think that’s one of the things about having a school museum – people want to send their kids to these kinds of institutions, because they know that kids are going to be interacting with it,” White said. “And that’s who it’s for, kids in the community.”

Nicklas said not only did Roberts’ donation help the school museum, it also helped save the fossil itself from degradation.

“If these bones are not collected, they degrade very quickly,” he said. “They’re on the surface and within two years they’re gone and of no use to anybody. The paleontological academic community has to get it (in) their head that there are so many bones that are out there and the only way to save them is to collect them.”

Nicklas said he is passionate about the legislation regulating excavation, which was created to preserve fossils and instead is destroying them, he said.

Roberts said she was thrilled to be able to give children more of an experience with dinosaurs than she had with one book in a library as a 6-year-old.

“To be able to touch these things and be excited about them at an age when they are really, really thinking about what they want to be when they grow up, I wish this had been available to me,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t, but I can make it available now.”

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