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Dig 20 Ideas to Discover Fossils

Illustration of prehistoric marine life and reef
Artwork included in the 2020 National Fossil Day logo featuring a Permian Period reef

Our nation’s rich geologic heritage spanning a few billion years is on display in national parks with fossils from every period of geologic time. Join paleontologists, educators, students, and many other partners sharing their excitement of fossils and highlighting their scientific and educational value, as well the importance of preserving fossils for future generations.

Check out 20 things to do and discover with these suggestions for learning about fossils and paleontology in national parks.

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Museum exhibit of a marine life in a prehistoric reef Mountain range
Permian Reef exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History NPS Photo
The fossilized Permian reef now known as the Guadalupe Mountains NPS / Vince Santucci

1. Check Out the 2020 National Fossil Day Logo

Take a dive into a Permian Period reef with the 2020 National Fossil Day logo to learn about life in what is now the Guadalupe Mountains 299 to 252 million years ago.

2. Follow Social Media

Follow fun fossil on social media using #FindYourPark as the National Park Service and partners share fossil facts, fascinating finds, virtual programs, and activities throughout the year. Join the National Fossil Day celebration every October using #NationalFossilDay as the National Park Service and many partners such as museums, state and local parks, educational institutions, and others host activities throughout the day. 

Illustration of a woman carrying a child over sand in a thunderstorm
In a scene from the ice age, a woman holding a child on the shores of the ancient Lake Otero leave the footprints in the mud.

Courtesy of Karen Carr

3. Trace a Discovery at White Sands National Park

Learn more about a remarkable discovery of the world’s longest fossilized human trackway giving a glimpse into life, and possibly parenting, more than 10,000 years ago. These ancient footprints show what researchers believe to be a female or a young male walking for almost a mile with a toddler's footprints periodically showing up alongside.

An image of prehistoric marine life cut in half with many creatures identified on the right half
A new painting showing some of the Mississippian shark and invertebrate fauna from Mammoth Cave was unveiled for National Fossil Day 2020.

Painting by Julius Csotonyi

4. Dive into a Discovery at Mammoth Cave National Park

A team of paleontologists, cave specialists, and park rangers at Mammoth Cave National Park have discovered a trove of fossil treasures that has yielded one of the most diverse Mississippian shark faunas in North America. Learn about this astonishing discovery that includes at least 40 species of sharks, including six new species, and rare three-dimensional skeletal cartilage that survived the ages.

A series of five colored in pages of prehistoric creatures
Use pages of a new coloring book to make your artistic mark while learning about prehistoric life.

Artwork by Malalai M., Sarah G., Phoebe C., Chelsea S., and Mary S. (ages 5-58)

5. Grab a Coloring Book

Get your copy of the new Prehistoric Life in National Parks coloring book featuring 40 drawings of ancient plants and animals that have been found fossilized in national parks. More bonus pages are available exclusively online!

Triceratops toy in front of a kid filling in a Junior Ranger book
There are many paleontology educational resources available for kids of all ages and the kid in all of us.

NPS Photo

6. Become a Junior Paleontologist

Kids (and adults) of all ages can become an official Junior Paleontologist! Complete the Junior Paleontologist Activity Booklet to learn how you can “explore, learn, and protect” fossils in national parks.

7. Quiz Yourself (or Your Friends)

More than 275 national parks have fossils representing millions of years of past life. Test your knowledge of paleontology and prehistoric life with the First Great National Park Fossil Quiz for national parks.

8. Teach Paleontology

Learn about our nation's fossils at home or in the classroom with paleontology-themed activities developed by education specialists.

A series of illustrations of prehistoric creatures
Creativity and artist talent is on full display for the annual National Fossil Day Art Contest.

9. Enter the Art Contest and View the Gallery

Check out current and previous winners of the annual National Fossil Day Art Contest! Start planning ahead for your submission for next year’s contest, which is open to all ages and skill levels of artists who just love to learn about fossils.

10. Take a Geologic Walk Through Time

The National Park System contains a magnificent record of geologic time because rocks from each period of the geologic time scale are preserved in park landscapes. Take a virtual walk through geologic time.

Line of National Fossil Day logos from 2010 to 2020
What is your favorite National Fossil Day logo?

11. Find Your National Fossil Day Logo

Did you know that National Fossil Day features a new logo each year to highlight different time periods and types of fossils? Find your favorite National Fossil Day logo from past and present. Tell your family and friends about it by sharing on social media using #NationalFossilDay.

12. Learn Your State Fossil

Fossils are found throughout the world and in every state across the country. Ever wonder what your state fossil is? Find out and learn who (or what) might have been walking through your neighborhood thousands or millions of years ago.

Small vertebrate dinosaur skeletons on display

Image from Telling the Dinosaur Story

13. Follow Dinosaurs Across National Natural Landmarks

Trace dinosaurs over geologic time by watching the Telling the Dinosaur Story video series, which explores the fascinating time of dinosaurs as told through various National Natural Landmarks in and along the Rocky Mountain Front Range.

14. Explore the History of Paleontology in Parks

Step into the human history of fossils in national parks, which have always been places for significant scientific research and groundbreaking discoveries in paleontology. Follow the evolving preservation of fossils and field of paleontology from native peoples to present day.

Fossil trackway model with color ramp overlay
Continuing advances in technology offer fresh perspectives to traditional techniques in paleontology, such as producing a "heat map" of a fossilized trackway at Grand Canyon National Park.

NPS / Jack Wood

15. View Fossils Virtually...in 3D!

Learn about photogrammetry and how it is used by geologists and paleontologists in national parks. View a collection of three-dimensional renderings of fossils found in national parks using this technology.

16. Glimpse at Chaco Culture National Historical Park's Collection

Explore the ever-changing coastline of the inland sea that once covered current-day New Mexico during the Late Cretaceous period 10–15 million years ago with a series of 3D models of fossils in the park’s collection.

17. Virtually Visit Fossils at Grand Canyon National Park

The fossils found within Grand Canyon span over a billion years of Earth’s history. Begin exploring prehistoric life by viewing 3D images of fossils in the park’s paleontology collection. As scientists continue exciting research, discover how fossil footprints recently forced paleontologists to rethink early inhabitants of ancient deserts.

Paleontologist next to a fossilized dolphin skull in a rock face
National Park Service Senior Paleontologist Vince Santucci excavating a fossilized dolphin skull at George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

NPS Photo

18. Follow a Fossil Rescue at George Washington Birthplace National Monument

Follow the efforts of a multi-agency rapid response team of paleontologists who recently converged on George Washington Birthplace National Monument to save a fairly complete fossil of a dolphin that lived during the Miocene epoch (22 to 8 million years ago).

19. Read All About It in a Newsletter

Stay up to date with fossil news in the Park Paleontology newsletter, which shares stories about fossil interpretation, protection, resource management, new discoveries, and issues related to the world of paleontology and paleontological resources management.

20. Partner With Us

Join the growing team of partners that hosts National Fossil Day celebrations and activities and promotes awareness of fossil resources throughout the year. There are currently more than 385 partners and growing!

Last updated: October 15, 2020