Two Weeks to National Fossil Day

Every time I look at my inbox and start thinking that I really need to try to cut down on the amount that lands there on a daily or weekly basis, something cool invariably arrives to change my mind.  Case in point, this morning’s email from the National Park Service announcing the upcoming arrival of the very first National Fossil Day(TM) on October 13, 2010.

I like fossils.  I like love the National Park Service.  I had my career-epiphany-moment directly after taking a fossil hike on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

I opened the email.

So what is National Fossil Day?  Part of the 2010 Earth Science Week celebrations sponsored by the American Geological Institute, National Fossil Day  is “a celebration organized to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational value.”

(In other words, a really good excuse to play in the dirt.  I always like those.)

The NPS website is a wealth of interesting information, a “rockin'” interdisciplinary list of activities, and other fascinating and fun stuff.  A few highlights include a map of the 230 national parks containing fossils (including ones in Guam and the US Virgin Islands) and fossil highlights from many of those parks,  a list of the official state fossils, and a list of events in your area.

If, like me, you take a look at all the amazing activity which is going to be on the National Mall in DC and want to cry into your Pleistocene soup from sheer envy, here are a handful of fun fossil-related activities and articles you can enjoy from the comfort of your desk chair.

Geology for Fossil Hunters, courtesy of the Exploratorium’s very cool site “Evidence: How do we know what we know? Human Origins”. Also including cool videos on virtual fossil reconstruction and other nifty topics.

Professor Allister McFragilis, Dinosaur Geo-Detective.  No, seriously. It’s an electronic field trip, or EFT put together by Bryce Canyon National Park, and has both online games and then downloadable lesson plans about geology and specifically fossils.

Dinosaur True Colors Revealed for First Time by pigments remaining in fossilized dino fuzz.

Pterosaur Ornithopter videos.  Which are apparently flying vehicles which mimic bird- or bird-like flight, specifically in this case, dino-bird-like-flight.  The key to this seems to be that the wings flap, as opposed to fixed-wing aircraft like normal planes.  Intrigued?  There is actually someone who has built and tested a successful human-powered ornithopter called the Snowbird, with a record setting 19.3 second flight, achieved just last week on September 22nd.

And, of course, more fossil fun activities and links at my previous post, “Dinosaurs, Art Photography, and Toddlers?

Dinosaurs, Art Photography, and…Toddlers?

Though you’d never know it from my last several posts, there are actually numerous cool and exciting things happening at the Peabody Essex Museum which are not related to Eye Spy.  However, since the Art & Nature Center is all about things interdisciplinary, we are frequently invited to come play in other departments’ sandboxes.

One great example was yesterday’s program planned by our Family Programs staff– “Dinosaurs at the Museum.”  Capitalizing on young folks’ interest in all things dinosaur, this program tied in to the current photography show on exhibit, Imprints: Photographs by Mark Ruwedel.

Klondike Bluffs Trail Site, #15 1999; Mark Ruwedel; Gelatin Silver Print; Collection of the artist, courtesy Gallery Luisotti (Santa Monica, CA)

A screening of the cartoon classic Land Before Time kicked off the morning, followed by make-your-own dinosaur feet (which tie on over your shoes, adorable!).  The program finished up with a trip upstairs to Imprints to see the very cool photographs, and yours truly in a pith helmet, hanging out with a pair of real dinosaur footprints in stone (three-toed carnivorous, 215 million years old), and a fossilized dinosaur tooth, both from PEM’s natural history collections.

The dinosaur tooth was my favorite story of the day: donated to the museum in a ladies’ scissors box from the  1800’s, it had with it a calling card and a sketch of a model from Harvard’s museum of natural history, back when it was called Agassiz Hall.  Interestingly, the card claimed it was a phytosaur tooth, but the sketch also identified it as belonging to a desmatosuchus.

Sketches from one of the fossil's owners which was donated with the probable-phytosaur tooth.

When my research on phytosaurs turned up nothing that looked like a desmatosuchus, I dug a little deeper to find out that while both are ‘archosaurs’ — precursors to the dinosaurs and looking rather like crocodiles — desmatosuchus was a plant eater and phytosaur a carnivore. I then got to present all the clues to our smallish (and even tallish) visitors and ask them which dino *they* thought our mystery tooth belonged to.  Great fun all around, and at least three short visitors, two of them girls, informed me that when they grew up they were going to find out for sure.  It made me smile (and think about the book Boy Were We Wrong about Dinosaurs, a fun read).

What did we decide about our mystery tooth, after all that?  Given the pointy nature of PEM’s mystery fossil, I’m throwing in my vote that our tooth once graced the mouth of a phytosaur, and the majority of yesterday’s visitors agreed with me…but I’d be happy for an actual paleontologist to come by and prove me wrong.

And so today I offer you some more ways to share the dinosaur-joy.

The World of Dinosaurs

National Geographic: Prehistoric World — Want to know what’s new in the world of dinosaurs and their neighbors?  Great articles, artistic reconstructions, and meaty issues here.

Jurassic Gardens — Create a terrarium populated with your favorite model dinos!

  • Useful list of supplies and possible plants from National Geographic here.
  • Inspiration for an outside dinosaur garden at Lucy’s Garden here.
  • Go organic with some of the other plant and compost suggestions from Organic Flower Gardening with Kids here.
Dinosaur fossil art created with the 'glue-resist' technique.  Credit to Gail Bartel. See link below.

Dinosaur fossil art created with the 'glue-resist' technique. Credit to Gail Bartel. See link below.


  • Making fossil-impressions with salt dough and coffee grounds from Kaboose here.
  • Pteranodons and T-Rex skulls from milk bottles directions here.
  • Glue-resist dino bones art directions  here.

Dinos Walking

  • See Sue run!  Make your own T-Rex flipbook, downloadable from the Field Museum here.
  • Songs and Fingerplays from AtoZkidsstuff.
  • Origami Dinosaurs, from simple to complex, with information about their species, here.