Sternberg curator excavates fossil fish

A Xiphactinus (pronounced zy-FACT-in-us) has been waiting for millions of years to be found in its final resting place near Glade. Last summer, it got its wish, and adjunct curator Mike Everhart of Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History is now in charge of digging it up.

Kansas is no stranger to the Xiphactinus. In fact, George M. Sternberg found the first Xiphactinus fossil in Kansas in 1870. The Sternberg family has found the majority of Xiphactini that are on display in museums across the nation.

"It's a fairly common fish in Kansas," Everhart said. "But it's hard to find one as complete as Sternberg's 'Fish-within-in-a-Fish.'"

The dig has generated some interest from a film maker working on a Discovery Channel project, so along with the normal excavation crew and equipment, a film crew and cameras will accompany Everhart and his team on the dig.

The film company has done other work on prehistoric animals, including an episode at the Sternberg Museum for the History Channel's "Prehistoric Monsters Revealed" in July 2008.

"I just returned from filming a documentary on Elasmosaurus in Philadelphia with them two weeks ago," said Everhart, "so I know they do good work."

The Xiphactinus was a predator from the late Cretaceous period that swam the oceans of what is now central North America. They grew as large as 17 or 18 feet in length and swallowed their prey in one big gulp.

"If it were around today, the Xiphactinus would put the 'sport' back in sport fishing," said Everhart. "It had a mouth big enough to swallow most people whole."

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