"Scenic view from atop Twin Rock" by U.S. National Park Service , public domain
Florissant Fossil Beds
Paleontology Program at the Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds Paleontology Program U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument The paleontology staff at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument includes a paleontologist, a museum technician, and several interns. These specialists monitor fossil sites around the monument, curate fossils in the on-site museum, and work with scientists at other institutions conduct to research about Florissant. Is anyone still digging for fossils? Researchers from various institutions have dug for fossils at Florissant, but any excavation on National Park Service land requires a permit. There are no large excavations currently planned because there is not enough room for more fossils in the monument museum. The most recent large dig occurred over the summers of 2009 and 2010 as part of a master’s thesis. Other research has led to small digs since then. A paleontology intern splits shale. Keeping an eye on the fossils Paleontology staff have monitored the stumps and other geologic resources in the park every summer since 1992. They photograph each site from specific angles and compare photographs from different years to determine how the site has changed. An evaluation form for each site quantifies disturbances such as erosion, animal burrows, research excavations, and theft. In general, most sites change very little in a year and theft is rare, but it is important to continue monitoring the resources to ensure that adequate protection measures are in place to preserve the monument’s resources. Where are all the excavated fossils? The paleontology lab in the visitor center building includes a room for museum collections. More than ten thousand objects are cataloged in the museum, and most of these are plant or insect fossils. Other museums across the U.S. and U.K. hold tens of thousands more fossils from excavations at Florissant done before the site was protected as a national monument. Conserving Fragile Fossils The monument does ongoing and pioneering experiments to find the best ways to care for the fossils at Florissant. Petrified Wood Paleontology staff regularly monitor the the stumps behind the visitor center. These fossils were shattered when they were historically excavated with dynamite. The monument has worked Metal bands are installed to stabilize the stumps with around a cracked stump. metal retaining bands and overhead shelters. New projects are ongoing with the University of Pennsylvania to test stone masonry conservation techniques on the most fragile stumps. Paper Shale The shale containing Florissant fossils is made of paperthin layers of ash and microorganisms called diatoms. The shale splits, flakes, and cracks with temperature and humidity changes or contact with chemicals. The paleontology staff are studying ways to repair and prevent damage to the shale fossils in the monument collections. 1 What happens to the fossils after excavation? Fossil specimens easily break or become lost if they are not properly cared for. Museum staff at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument record, photograph, and permanently store each fossil collected in the park. Some fossils are also prepared and studied for scientific research. 3 Fossils are cushioned in a small box with foam. Preparation When shale is split to reveal a fossil, often parts of the shale still cover the edges of the specimen. Paleontology preparators (people trained to care for fossils) use needle-like tools to pick the shale away, revealing the fossil underneath. The antennae (shown by arrows) of this fossil insect (FLFO-9817) were hidden before preparation (left) but visible afterwards (right). 2 Fossils are photographed to create digital database records. 4 Fossils are placed in drawers organized by the place that they were collected. The museum will keep these specimens permanently so that researchers can make new discoveries from Florissant fossils and check the quality of earlier scientific work on them. What kinds of research happen at Florissant? Research generates scientifically credible information for public outreach and visitor understanding. Scientists have studied Florissant fossil beds for more than 140 years, and several students have written master’s theses about the site. Paleontology staff collaborate with universities, museums, and other institutions to coordinate research activities like digging fossils, loaning specimens, or sharing database information. How does Florissant help other geologic sites? Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument supports national and international efforts to conserve geologic heritage. The paleontology program and Friends group for the monument have partnered with El Bosque Petrificado Piedra Chamana (The Petrified Forest Piedra Chamana) in the Andes Mountains near Sexi, Peru, to help this “sister park” protect and educate about its fossils. Like Florissant, Sexi captures a snapshot of the What are the public benefits of a paleo program? Eocene, tens of millions of years ago, when the climate was more tropical than it is The paleontology program at Florissant Fossil Beds develops today. Florissant educational materials to increase visitor understanding through promotes sustainable a variety of mediums. For example, the site bulletin you are geotourism at Sexi reading is one of a series made by the paleontology staff with and in Colorado. The funding from visitor fees! Paleontology staff designed content for monument is the first the indoor exhibits and created the guide and waysigns for the stop on the Gold Belt Geologic Trail. The program also coordinated a public online Tour National Scenic database with images of the several thousand Florissant fossils Byway, a route that have been included in scientific publications. In addition, through geologic sites the monument’s paleontologist has written several books, such with cultural and as The Fossils of Florissant. These works help a general audience scenic value. learn about the human and geologic history of the fossil beds. A fossil log near Sexi, Peru.