Series: Park Paleontology News - Fall 2017

2017 National Fossil Day Celebration

illustration fossil icons with text nps paleontology

Article by John-Paul Hodnett, National Fossil Day Coordinator (2016 & 2017)
for Park Paleontology Newsletter, Fall 2017
NFD on the National Mall
Gray skies loomed in the early morning of the Washington D.C.  National Fossil Day, with the Smithsonian Castle in the background (photo by Sarah Hodnett, NPS).
October marks that most wonderful time of the year where the season of fall is in full swing with Halloween right around the corner, cooler temperatures, changing of leaves colors, and all things pumpkin spiced are unleashed on us.

However, for those of us who are paleontologically inclined it is a month of celebration. October is not only when we usually gather to share our knowledge and passion for paleontology with our peers at the annual meetings of the Geological Society of America and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology but it is also celebrates International Dinosaur Month, Earth Sciences Week, and of course National Fossil Day.
child holding a fossil
New Junior Paleontologist displaying the cast of a Devonian heterostracan fish, this year’s subject featured in the 2017 National Fossil Day Logo (Photo by JP Hodnett, NPS).

This year’s National Fossil Day has seen exciting growth in participation with over 70+ events registered all across the nation. Museums, federal and state parks, and public educational outreach groups hosted activities, lectures, and tours to both raise awareness of their local communities’ fossil resources and share their love of wonderfully ancient organisms. Also, this year we have exceeded 350 partners who support National Fossil Day. Media coverage for National Fossil Day was extensive with well over 130 media links for various events across the nation.

NFD 2017 artwork devonian fish
The 2017 National Fossil Day Logo featuring the early Devonian heterostracan fish Panamintaspis snowii (foreground) and Phyllonaspis taphensis (background) from Death Valley National Park.

Every year the National Fossil Day logo features a unique ancient organism known from a National Park or Monument. This year, the 2017 National Fossil Day Logo featured two early Devonian fish from Death Valley National Park. These fish, Panamintaspis snowii and Phyllonaspis taphensis, are heterostracans, early armored “jawless” fish which share a relationship to living lampreys and hagfish. These two fish were named by David K. Elliott, Professor of Geology at Northern Arizona University.

child's painting of paleontologist and skull
1st place recipient for the 8 and under category for the 2017 National Fossil Day Art Contest (image curtesy of NPS).

Our National Fossil Day Art Contest exceeded well over 100 entries from across the country. These participants showed through various media their amazing artistic interpretation of their experiences with paleontology and fossils. We had 16 award recipients, for first, second, third, and honorary mention placements, from four age categories selected to be featured on our National Fossil Day Art Contest Gallery (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fossilday/nfd-art-contest-winners-gallery.htm).

Our Washington D.C. National Fossil Day Celebration occurred this year on the National Mall between the Smithsonian Castle and National Museum of Natural History. We had 10 participating organizations, including new event partners the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, George Washington University, University of Maryland, and National Natural Landmarks. We gathered together in our “tent village” to share our knowledge and passion for paleontology and fossils with the public. We had a steady flow of an estimated 450 to 500 individual visitors and school groups, despite the call of rain throughout the day (the rain fortunately held off till the last minute of our event).

nfd partners table at national mall
Volunteers with the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology with the skull of the tyrannosauroid Teratophoneus that will go to one lucky school (Photo by JP Hodnett, NPS).

Highlights of the Washington D.C. National Fossil Day Celebration included the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology giving out toys and trading cards featuring the dinosaurs of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM), as well as holding a drawing for a school to receive a cast replica of the tyrannosauroid Teratophoneus skull collected from GSENM. The American Geosciences Institute unveiled for the first time an interactive photo booth that allowed visitors to be inserted into a photo of their choice featuring fossils, dinosaurs, and fossil bearing landscapes like Petrified Forest National Park. This technology was supported by a Paleontological Society grant and images were provided by University of California Museum of Paleontology, Smithsonian, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the University of Nebraska State Museum, and the National Park Service. George Washington University Department of Biology shared their paleontological research on various dinosaurs and crocodilians collected from the middle Jurassic of China, and graduate students from GWU presented some of their exciting research. The Smithsonian Department of Paleobiology offered a Miocene marine sediment sifting activity for visitors to find their very own shark tooth or other marine fossil to take home. The Calvert Marine Museum and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Dinosaur Park highlighted local fossils found near the D.C. area. The Bureau of Land Management and United State Forest Service presented casts and actual fossils that come from fossil sites within their jurisdiction. Lastly, the National Park Service along with National Natural Landmarks program once again sweared in new Junior Paleontologist with their coveted Junior Paleontologist badges and activity books. NPS also offered a new dinosaur activity book provided graciously by NFD partner Lonely Planet Kids.

skull on the national mall
Skull of Teratophoneuswith our Nation’s Capital Building (Photo curtesy of Scott Foss, BLM).

Much thanks for the success of the National Fossil Day Celebration at the National Mall goes to our partners the National Park Service, American Geosciences Institute and the Smithsonian Institute and its Department of Paleobiology who provided materials, manpower, and promotion for this year’s Washington D.C. National Fossil Day Event. The American Geosciences Institute and its partnership with the National Park Service has been at the core of National Fossil Day since its inception in 2010.

Guests and our own D.C. event participants had a resounding blast and hope our next year’s National Fossil Day event in Washington D.C. will be even greater. Stay tuned to our National Fossil Day website for future details of our 2018 National Fossil Day celebration and our unveiling of the 2018 National Fossil Day logo on January 15th (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fossilday/index.htm).