Here is a handy reference chart for Geologic Time. Feel free to share. If you post to another website please give us credit and a link back.
What does global warming, siberia, and the Permian Mass extinction have in common?
In 2008, Planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton, of Arizona State University lead an epedition into the frozen tundra of Siberia looking for the cause of the Great Dying that took place at the end of the Permian Period about 250 million years ago. At that time on earth there was massive volcanic activity in the area we now call Siberia. Through many scientists theorized that this event was the trigger for the extinction event, the evidence did not match the conditions needed to cause the extinction of 70% of life on land and 96 % of marine life. The 2008 expedition found the missing ingredient, coal! They fond explosive volcanic rocks that had both coal and charcoal imbedded in it. It is a great story. You can read all about it here https://www.wired.com/story/the-epic-siberian-journey-to-solve-a-mass-extinction-mystery/
Did you know that the USA has the biggest variety of dinosaur remains in the world? Scientists and archaeologists are still regularly unearthing complete skeletons all across the Western and South-western parts of the country, and the best part is, you can join them!
So if you’re feeling like channeling your inner Jeff Goldblum and heading out on a dig, here’s a list of some of the very best hot spots to find a dinosaur fossil in the US.
The North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck, North Dakota.
This 67 million-year-old site sits inside the famous Hell Creek Formation. Back in the Mesozoic era, the area was a huge stretch of shoreline, making it a pretty unique location to study the differences between inland and coastal dwelling animals and foliage of that period.
Today the North Dakota Geological Survey invites members of the public to join them on full day digs to help unearth the many remains that still lie under the surface. Everyone can get involved, from beginners to more seasoned fossil hunters. The most commonly found bones here in Bismarck are from species like the Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Dromeosaurus, Didelphodon, and the Brachychampsa.
PaleoAdventures, Belle Fourche, South Dakota
This privately owned dig site in the Black Hills of South Dakota is also part of the Hell Creek Formation and sees visitors from around the world who come to unearth the bounty of dinosaur fossils.
The site is run by paleontologist Walter W. Stein who has been digging the area for over 20 years. He even has a dinosaur named after him, the Dakotaraptor Steini, which was discovered in 2015 by a team from Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.
One of the coolest things about digging here at PaleoAdventures is that you can take home some of your discoveries, like Triceratops teeth, plant fossils and other more commonly found objects. If you find anything truly remarkable, Stein will hold it back to be studied by experts in universities and museums across the country.
These super popular digs last a whole day, from 8 am to 8 pm, and they tend to book up quickly. If you’re lucky, you might discover fossils from species like the Anzu, otherwise known as ‘The Chicken From Hell’, the Dakotaraptor, known as ‘Silky’ and Ankylosaurus, the ‘Armed Lizard Dinosaur”.
The Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana
There are various types of digs you can get involved with here – from simple half-day sessions, perfect for beginners who want a little insight into the process of unearthing dinosaur fossils, to full-day sessions, all the way up to a 6-day camping and digging expeditions up by the Canadian border.
The longer expeditions take place in the Judith River Formation, where you can help archaeologists on their mission to uncover, reassemble and preserve two full dinosaurs.
The shorter day-long sessions usually involve a training session at an inactive/mock-up dig site in the morning, followed by a fully hands-on dig in the afternoon to find yet undiscovered remains.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, Wyoming
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is in the heart of the Morrison Formation which is thought to be around 155 million years old. The center opened in the mid-’90s, and since then over 10,000 bones have been discovered here, mainly from Diplodocus, Camarasaurus, and Apatosaurus dinosaurs.
There are half-day and full-day packages available, but if you’re keen to get the most out of your dig, shoot for the full-day option, as you’ll also get a guided tour of the center’s museum. If you’re lucky enough to find a dinosaur fossil, you’ll be added to their official register and hall of fame, and the item will be stored on-site for further research.
Gear Up and Get Ready to Find Dinosaur Fossils Across the USA
These are just a few of the places across the US where you can practice some hands-on dinosaur fossil discovery. The best sites for finding fossils are usually in the desert, where there aren’t many trees and other types of plant matter to get in the way of a dig. Most sites that offer great digging potential are made up of sedimentary rock, which does an awesome job of preserving fossils of all types.
Dinosaur fossils have been found in 35 states across the country; not just in the most famous fossil sites of the West and Southwest, but also way up in Alaska and as far south as Alabama. You never know what you might find, even in your own backyard.
When we had our school in Colorado, our students loved the boulder-rimmed sandbox. The giant rocks were great for little bodies to begin their first bouldering escapades, there was a deep indentation that felt like a cave for pretending so many historical scenarios, and then there were the fossils.
You see, about four times a year, my husband and I, both teachers at the school, would bring in a giant bucket of sandbox fossils and scatter them throughout the area, burying them in layers all around the giant sand area. We’d take the elementary students out to the sandbox at various times and pretend we’d taken a trip to the sand dunes in southern Colorado, or the Burgess Shale in Alberta, Canada where so many of the same early fossils had been discovered: crinoids, brachiopods, orthoceras, clams, gastropods, and even the occasional trilobite. As the students grew more sophisticated in their understanding of what it took to dig fossils, we’d sometimes layout a grid and practice the excavation in the style of the true paleontologist.
Once the fossils were found, we had a number of activities to choose from: making plaster casts, re-burying in a sawdust/plaster mixture to be dug out and discovered by another student, and testing with acid to see if there was any organic material remaining.
At times we made mini-digs with a material we lovingly called Fossil Pie. These were put together around the time of our big annual fundraiser Pie-a-Palooza. Most of the pies sold here were sweet and delicious, but the fossil pie often brought the highest bid at our auction because it was filled with fossils, gems, teeth, and other earthly treasures that spanned the millennia. With up to 100 specimens to be found in the space of a pie tin, these Fossil Pies, were popular among the younger set who’d searched for hours in the school sandbox to find a few treasures.
There are so many things you can do with Sandbox Fossils to help your children experience the joy of discovery that leads to learning. This lesson plan will connect your child to ancient sea beds and demonstrate how long-ago animals turned to modern-day stone fossils. And if you’ve got a hankerin’ for Fossil Pie, there’s a version of it for sale here: https://www.fossilicious.com/fossil-pie-12-specimen-fossil-hunt.html
Miraculously, life appeared on earth nearly 3.5 billion years ago in the form of microbes. By the time of the Cambrian explosion, life forms were highly developed.
Consider the trilobite. (If you’ve been following my blog you know it’s one of my personal favorites!) It has a chitinous covering that was made of dozens of armor-like plates that allowed it to curl into a ball when stimulated and in need of protection. Trilobites had many legs, the three lobes that inspired its name, and a clear head, thorax and “tail” known as the pygidium. Its most highly developed organ was its eye, seen here on one of our favorite giant models. Yet, on the timeline of life, it’s one of the earliest noted species, living from approximately 520 mya until they died out at the great Permian mass extinction around 250 mya.
It is generally known that the most important remnants of the Cambrian animal explosion are found in the Burgess Shale, discovered in 1909 by Charles Wolcott of the Smithsonian Institution in the Canadian province of Alberta. Here, with the presence of more than 150 species, is the evidence of the Cambrian explosion of life. The Burgess Shale is notable not only for the number of species but also for the fossil remains that include rarely fossilized soft body parts.
But I’ve often wondered about the simplest animal forms? What did they look like? How did they relate to the Cambrian fossils of the Burgess Shale?
Enter the graptolite! When we first encountered this early colonial species, they didn’t visually impress. But the more we learned the more we thought our personal collection would be remiss without at least a few specimens of this animal group. For amateurs like ourselves, it took a while before we stumbled upon a place where the graptolites were plentiful enough that soon they will become part of our student collections! In the meantime, we are learning all we can about this early species and I’ll share bits and pieces of this learning over the next few blog posts.
As I began my research, the graptolite got my attention when I learned that it belongs to the phylum Hemichordata. Remembering my early days with the Montessori Chinese Box of the Animal Kingdom, I was excited to now have an animal I knew as part of this phylum. Scientists place it as an extinct subclass of the class Pterobranchia, a group of worm-like animals that live in tubes on the floor of the ocean. They are filter feeders.
So far in my studies, the most interesting fact is how they got their name. Based on Greek root words, the name literally means “written on rocks” (graptos: “written” and lithos: “rocks”), aptly chosen because the fossil remains look a lot like hieroglyphs. They were discussed, drawn and labeled by Linneaus as possibly plant fossils or crusts formed on rocks that merely resembled fossils. The new fossils we’ve found are truly beautiful “pictures” of real, simple, early animals that got their start in the middle Cambrian period.
Stay tuned for more photos and info as I lean-in to my own learning over the next few weeks or browse our collection of graptolite fossils! (Include photo of several graptolites. )
Snail Relatives…Who knows?
I guess it was just a matter of time when we’d have one of the modern little buggers show up in a box of fossil relatives. And here it was today! My mind began to fill with questions begging for answers.
The one made of stone is from the Cretaceous Period and came to us from Morocco. That was the first question and easily answered by Doug who keeps these things in his memory better than I.
Next up: I wonder if these are related species…what species is that fossil? What species the snail? If they aren’t the same species, then are they related? Then, “Is this an analogy or homology?” You get the picture…biological questions.
Next my mind flipped to geology and history. (Big History!) Fossil snails seem pretty common, I wonder if there are any around here. If so, were Africa and North America connected at one time? How were the continents connected during the Cretaceous? How many years ago was that? How can I figure that out? And now there’s some math learning/practice potential!
In the history of biology, did any of the scientists from the early days draw pictures of these cretaceous snails? Linnaeus drew pictures of hundreds, if not thousands, of species of fossils and even things he wasn’t sure were fossils. (See my post on Graptolites.) What sort of writing did these early biologists/paleontologists do on the topic of gastropods? How did they tell the story? Maybe I could write my own story of the gastropod…
The human mind is amazing! It’s inherently human to wonder and be curious. Experiences like this drives children to form questions, seek the answers, and trust their ability to find them.
Student questions lead to a need for skill-development, which leads to learning, resulting in a hunger for more. As Dr. Maria Montessori wrote inEducation for a New World, (in response to observing a young child spelling words with the moveable alphabet in an early Montessori classroom)“There was an inner urge for more and more knowledge.”
Will you inspire that hunger in a child?
The child inside of me was beyond excited, thrilled…not quantifiable. I hopped onto Google (of course). There I found a TON of info and began to learn so many new things.
I started by searching with the only terms I knew: “roly-poly bug” and “pill bug”. I learned that people all over the US called them by different names. And there were a lot of different species with a wide variety of markings. It was the pale markings on my bug that made it appear to have lobes, which it really did not.
Next, my husband announced that it really couldn’t be a trilobite because all the known species were “assumed” to have lived in water. So I dug a little deeper. Lo and behold, the pillbug, roly-poly (or even sowbug) is not an insect at all…it’s a crustacean! It has gills! I will forever remember these last facts because they are unique, unexpected and the opposite of what I thought I was observing: an insect. But this guy has 7 pairs of legs…and those GILLS!
Why is this so fascinating? I believe I had a childlike moment of learning, something all us teachers hope to inspire. And brought on by a tiny little bug.
You see, this example had all the elements of what we teachers need to inspire learning:
- A Eureka moment in which I was driven to figure out if this could really be a unique species of trilobite.
- A novel learning moment in which I learned that this “bug” was no insect; rathe a crustacean with 7pairs of legs, and GILLS!
- Comparable/compatible information that helped me understand my curiosity: besides looking like a trilobite, they also behave like a trilobite. When they are moving, their little legs hold up the “shell” and when touched, they roll into a tight ball.
All in all, it was a perfect (personal) example of what great learning can be.
What sort of amazement will you inspire in your students today?
Montessori’s Cosmic Education and the story of the universe grabbed hold of my heart and never let go. Learning to inspire curiosity, wonder and connection to our celestial home has been my quest throughout 30 years of teaching. This week and next, I’ll be sharing some of my ideas and strategies in two 90-minute sessions of online and hands-on learning.
I opened a book of poetry written by a class of elementary II students I worked with in 1999. Their words reflected the intertwining of academic learning, going out, and following their passions.
He was a soldier as he planned his attack.
His eyes flashed like lightning
While he wept for his prey.
(C.H., 11 years)
My memory of the year has faded too greatly to remember the details of weaving the threads of biology, ecology, language, and math, but their poetry and the drawings that graced the pages of the book they’d created brought back the vivaciousness of those students. These were children who’d gone to the Grand Canyon in the spring and, upon returning, decided to build a model of the layers into our classroom. The poem’s authoris the same child who exclaimed with great excitement that they could use the clinometer to determine the height of their model, reflecting the way they had used the instrument to calculate the heights of the distant sides of the canyon. This “proof” of meaningful learning moved my soul then as it does now.
This week, I’ll be sharing ideas for Keeping Cosmic Education at the Heart of your Classroom. We’ll explore ways of thinking about your curriculum to knit together experiences in all the skills-based subjects as well as art, music, and practical life activities. We’ll consider the whole, distill it into parts, and return to the whole to give you a template for sharing your Montessori lessons in ways that develop elementary and secondary students into adults who see themselves within the context of the cosmic plan. I hope you’ll join me!
How’d you like to split an ordinary-looking gray rock and find this beauty? You can at
U-Dig Fossils near Delta, Utah in western Millard County.
The quarry is literally acres of Wheeler Shale, laid down during the Cambrian Period approximately 507 million years ago. Trilobites were prolific inhabitants of the Cambrian seas that covered the planet. This species, the Elrathia Kingii, shows up between layers of the shale.
When you arrive at the quarry, you’re handed a bucket and a hammer to help gently tap on the shale to split the layers. It’s fairly common to find pieces of incomplete trilobites. On the day we visited, several really nice whole trilobites were found…but not by us.
To be fair, we didn’t spend much time splitting rocks. We arrived at the quarry late in the morning on what was a pretty hot summer day. We recommend you keep an eye on the temperatures, because this is the desert and by late morning temperatures can be brutal.
The Crapo family runs the U-Dig Fossil Site. We met and worked with the patriarch of the family in 2005. For the next 12 years of so, Loy Crapo, whose business is called The Bug House, supplied us with a variety of Elrathia kingii fossils of various sizes and levels of completion. After Loy passed away, his widow, sons, daughters, and their families continued the Bug House business and do so until today.
The Bug House isn’t just about trilobites, in fact, their bigger business is in two beautiful crystal specimens: Septarian nodules and Dugway geodes.
We spoke with Shayne Crapo who runs the U-Dig Fossils quarry. Shayne recommends visitors:
It is adviseable to bring a pair of gloves (garden gloves are sufficient), safety glasses and a light jacket in the event there is a change of weather. Remember to bring plenty of food and water. Please bring a container to transport your fossils home. It is always good to bring a spare tire as well.
We will be open 6 days closed on Sunday, hours of operation 9 AM – 6 PM. “Closed on Sundays and 4 July, we are open on most holidays except for Sundays”. Please feel free to call to make sure what days we are open, and check the calendar just in case. If you get there early just wait for us at the gate and we will be there promptly.
Business hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Please arrive at the quarry before 4 PM because the quarry will close early if no one is present at 4 p.m. Please do not attempt to enter the quarry when it is closed.
Directions– The U-DIG Fossils Quarry is located approximately 52 miles west of Delta, Utah, near Antelope Springs. It is approximately 90 miles from Provo to Delta. It is approximately 130 miles from Salt Lake City to Delta.
Once in Delta, first travel 32 miles west on Highway 6 / 50. At the Long Ridge Reservoir sign between mile markers 56-57, turn right. There is a U-DIG Fossils sign at this intersection. Then travel 20 miles down a well-maintained gravel road to reach the U-DIG Quarry. Any type of vehicle can travel this gravel road.
Hours-hours of operation 9 AM – 6 PM. “Closed on Sundays and 4 July, we are open on most holidays except for Sundays”. Please feel free to call to make sure what days we are open
Season-1 April – 30 Oct