Fossils Activities

  1. A bizarre new competition among avocational paleontologists involves racing to collect representative fossils of a set taxonomic groups. You can start anywhere in the northeast, you can collect the fossils in rocks of any age, and you mustn't exceed the speed limit. This means to win you have to be efficient about your route and know where to go. You must find the following: 100 bivalves, 100 trilobites, 5 crinoids, 5 stromatolites, 100 gastropods, 100 brachiopods, 5 blastoids, 5 barnacles, 100 cephalopods, 100 bryozoans, 5 cystoids, and 5 shark teeth. 

    A local natural history museum sponsors you with a driver and travel funding. Make a plan to enter the race. Give the route you would take that would make it likely you could find enough of each of these organisms quickly. Given highway speed limits, collecting 10 hours/day, how much time do you think it would take to collect these fossils? Explain your assumptions and calculations. What factors would influence this time? 

  2. Nova, the Public Broadcasting System science documentary specialists, hear that you won the race. They like the action of the race, but had been planning to create a movie on the history of life. Thus they wish to sponsor another race, this time collecting the organisms sequentially through geologic time rather than solely by kind of animal. 

    Explain how you would change your route to collect fossils from oldest to youngest. In this race, one must find just one specimen of each of 3 kinds of fossils from the list in part (1) for each geological period in order from the Cambrian to the Quaternary. How fast could you do it? How do these fossils fit into the following geologic events?  

    1. the Grenville passive margin
    2. the Taconic converge,
    3. interval (Silurian-Early Devonian) between Taconic and Acadian
    4. the Acadian convergence, (3a) interval (Mississippian-Early Permian) between Acadian and Alleghenian
    5. the Alleghenian convergence,
    6. interval (Early-mid Triassic) between Alleghanian and rifting
    7. the rifting apart of Pangea, and
    8. interval (mid-Jurassic-late Jurassic) between rifting and creation of Coastal Plain
    9. the Coastal Plain passive margin and shaping by erosion of many of current land-forms
    10. Pleistocene glaciation and Holocene post-glacial.
  3. Given your new celebrity status, the local fossil club calls you to give a talk on the history of life from the local area, based on fossils. You patiently explain that this isn't possible with fossils, because no one place has anywhere near a complete record. However, you can guess what happened, since missing rock sometimes indicates the presence of land environments, and these land organisms may have been recorded elsewhere. You promise to give them a presentation about this. 

    Write a script for a nontechnical talk, giving your estimation of the history of life (the land and sea) in your neighborhood. Point out what we know from local fossils and what we know from elsewhere. Choose illustrations for your talk.