Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

Badge 3 Fossils

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3. Fossils

Fossils represent a merger between the sciences of geology and biology. They are at the core of the science of paleontology, or the study of past life. To study fossils, you need to learn about different forms of life on earth, the history of that life, and the geological processes that preserve life‘s record. The following activities will assist you. As a start, you should get a book. A couple of good, basic guidebooks at reasonable prices are Rhodes, Zim, and Shaffer‘s  Fossils: A Guide to Prehistoric Life and Palmer‘s Fossils.

Activity 3.1: The Geological Time Chart

Memorize the geological eras and periods and some key facts about each one. Then make a geological time line showing all the geological periods. Illustrate it with drawings of fossils and prehistoric plants and animals characteristic of each period.

Activity 3.2: Types of Fossilization and Making or Excavating Fossils

Explain the different types of fossilization (e.g., carbonization, mineralization, molds and casts, etc.). Then do one of the following. Make a fossil with clay and plaster, bake a "Tri-lo-Bite", or excavate a real or plastic fossil.

Activity 3.3: The Forms of Life

Demonstrate knowledge of the major groups of invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.

Activity 3.4: Collecting Fossils

Build a fossil collection of 10 to 20 specimens. Some collectors concentrate on a single sort of plant or animal (for instance, trilobites) and try to collect a wide range of species. Others concentrate on one locality or formation and build an array of all the plants and animals that locality has to offer. Still others opt for diversity, trying to collect a little bit of everything (clams, brachiopods, corals, shark teeth, trilobites, etc.). Whichever form you choose, be sure to follow the basics of good curation, labeling each specimen and keeping a log book with key information (what it is, where it came from, age of the fossil, etc.). (See Badge 5: Collecting.)

Activity 3.5: A Fossil-Collecting Field Trip

Learn and demonstrate knowledge of the AFMS Code of Ethics and the rules of field trip etiquette (as well as the laws of your state or region), then head out on a fossil-collecting trip. (See Badge 8: Field Trips.)

Activity 3.6: Your State Fossil

Just as each state has its own flag, many have an official state fossil. Find out what your state fossil is and write a report about it for your club newsletter or talk about it at one of your meetings. If your state doesn‘t have a state fossil, discuss what would be a good fossil to nominate, and then write to your governor or local state legislature to suggest it!

Activity 3.7: Dinosaurs

Everyone loves one particular fossil: dinosaurs! With your fellow club members, take part in a dinosaur identification game or other dinosaur-related activities.

Reference books

Following are some books kids might buy or seek in the library for learning about fossils:

Arduini and Teruzzi, Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Fossils

Horenstein, Familiar Fossils, the Audubon Society Pocket Guides

Ivanov, Hrdlickova, and Gregorova, The Complete Encyclopedia of Fossils

Moody, Fossils: How to Find and Identify Over 300 Genera, Macmillan Field Guides

Palmer, Fossils, Pockets Series

Pinna, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fossils

Rhodes, Zim, & Shaffer, Fossils: A Guide to Prehistoric Life, Golden Guides Series

Thompson, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fossils

Walker and Ward, Fossils, Eyewitness Handbook Series

In addition to these, I encourage you to check out two other books that tell all about fossils and how to become a fossil detective, one geared to very young children, the other to older kids:

Aliki‘s Fossils Tell of Long Ago (1990) is a story book that introduces young children to fossils: what they are, how they formed, how they are found, what they tell us, and how to make a fossil of your own.

Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan teamed to write Bones Rock! Everything You Need to Know to Be a Paleontologist (2004). This is a fantastic, beautifully illustrated introduction for somewhat older kids. Paleontologist Robert Bakker says it best on the back cover of the book: A wonderfully generous invitation to the joys of paleontology! This is the book I wish I had when I was ten. And fifteen. And in college. And when I got my first job teaching paleontology. Bones Rock! tells you how to be a dino detective. Listen carefully.

You can find these and other guidebooks in the Science, Nature, and Field Guide sections of bookstores. You can sometimes get guidebooks like these at a discount if ordering in bulk and if your club has a nonprofit, educational tax ID number and you let the distributor know you‘re purchasing for educational purposes. Finally, many interesting web sites help you explore fossils with kids. Here are just a few representative examples:

National Park Service Junior Paleontologist Program

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History

University of California Museum of Paleontology