Long Range Interp Plan Appendix C

The theme matrix proposed in this Long-Range Interpretive Plan identifies stories associated with the significance of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Each theme is described by a theme statement, examples of concepts/ideas appropriate to the theme, and examples of topics and stories that fit within each theme.

What is a Theme?

The theme statements adhere to accepted tenets of interpretive theme construction. That is, primary interpretive themes:
● Derive from the purpose and national significance.
● Capture and convey the meaning of a place not solely a collection of facts.
● Open minds to new ideas and introduce multiple points of view.
● Suggest connections, meanings, and relevance.
● Link universal concepts and experiences with tangible resources.
● Provide a foundation for more specific programs, presentations, and exhibits.
● Are expressed in single sentences.


These concepts, ideas, and topics are a representative, partial list. They are examples that could illustrate the concepts. They are not all-inclusive. In fact, they never could be, nor are they intended to exclude any topic. An interpretive theme is successful only if other topics and stories can be included within it.

Theme 1

Research and exploration at Hagerman Fossil Beds allows paleontologists, other scientists, park staff, and visitors to discover and understand evolutionary relationships, species distribution and animal behavior both at the site and elsewhere in the world.

Sample Topics and Concepts
● relationships ● change ● discovery ● connectedness ● history of research ● STEM/STEAM ● tools of a scientist ● paleontology study multidisciplinary ● geologic time ● comparative anatomy ● analysis of finds ● biogeography ● analogous traits ● convergence and divergence

Related Stories and Ideas
● Define the science of paleontology. What is its purpose and methods?
● List changes in the science of paleontology from the Smithsonian expeditions to today.
● Analyze the ways in which the science of paleontology keeps changing and what factors lead these changes.
● Propose new tools that might be used on the fossil collection to yield new information.
● Propose an assortment of scientists or scientific skills that are needed for an in-depth study of a new fossil.
● Compose a personal plan for investigating a favorite fossil.
● Relate how both discovery and analysis are equally important in paleontology.


Theme 2

The monument is a ‘window into the Pliocene past,’ a diverse array of fossils animals (such as the Hagerman Horse) and plants that allow scientists to reconstruct ancient landscapes, revealing relationships between species in lake, wetland, riverine, woodland and grassland environments.

Sample Topics and Concepts
● Pliocene ● evolutionary relationships ● Hagerman horse ● Idaho state fossil ● diversity of environments ● biostratigraphy ● paleoecology ● palynology ● comparative anatomy ● fossil versus living assemblage ● DNA ● climate change ● environmental progression

Related Stories and Ideas
● Identify and evaluate the Hagerman Horse’s place in the lineage of horses.
● Distinguish the Pliocene epoch from other epochs in the geologic time scale.
● Explain why it is important to understand a fossil as part of a community.
● What is the fossil history of Idaho?
● Reconstruct the environment despite missing fossil evidence.
● Compare the animals of Idaho today with those that were present in the Pliocene.
● Delineate evolutionary relationships between extinct and modern animals.
● Use modern animals to reconstruct animal behaviors of prehistoric animals.

Theme 3

Past and present geologic processes that formed the current landscape at Hagerman first preserved and are now exposing fossils, providing scientists, staff and visitors with the ability to view, study and understand Hagerman’s remarkable fossil record.

Sample Topics and Concepts
● volcanism ● datable ash layers ● Snake River evolution ● connection to Yellowstone ● uplift and erosion ● Bonneville flood (melon gravel) ● Lake Idaho ● stratigraphy ● environmental processes ● geologic processes ● undercutting ● degree of slope

Related Stories and Ideas
● Interpret Idaho’s geologic history in relation to the Hagerman Valley.
● Sketch the boundaries of ancient Lake Idaho over a modern day map.
● Solve the mystery of melon gravel and how it came to be.
● Use stratigraphy to date a Hagerman fossil.
● Explain how geologic processes preserve, destroy, and reveal fossils in the long term.
● Ascertain how fossils may become transported, modified, or buried, by water flow and/or wind.
● Use examples of modern animal adaptations to infer how a fossil animal moved or what it ate.

Theme 4

The fossil record at Hagerman provides an opportunity for visitors to explore the “life of a fossil”: the chemical, physical and biologic processes that created the right environment for its fossilization, and the events leading up to its discovery.

Sample Topics and Concepts
• depositional environments • animal behavior • assemblage • reconstruction • trace fossils • articulated • geologic processes • geography and politics • fossilization process • forensic science of the past • coprolites • taphonomy

Related Stories and Ideas
• Examine a set of related fossils and make conclusions about one animal’s age at death, how it died, presence of disease, behavior and environment during its lifetime.
• Demonstrate how the various factors and variables affects the preservation of fossils.
• Assemble a collection of fossils (or fossil casts or photographs of fossils) into an animal by evaluating the bone’s function and probable position.
• Apply research about fossils to associate the fossil with something that was alive.
• Speculate about the conditions present when the fossils were formed.

Theme 5

Fossils are fragile, and once destroyed, can never be replaced. When a fossil is removed without scientific documentation, paleontologists are unable to piece together the relationships between specific plants, animals and their environments. Stewardship of the fossils and respect for other monument resources is everyone’s responsibility.

Sample Topics and Concepts
• context • stewardship • scientific documentation • non-renewable • location • value • integrity • horses/domestic animals • erosion • hiking trails • respect • resource • conservation • poaching

Related Stories and Ideas
• Contrast the value of fossils identified by professionals, fossils found by amateurs and donated to museums with some documentation, and looted fossils.
• Define context as applied to fossils and the fossil record.
• Manage human-related impacts on fossils, unintentional or intentional, and identify the activities of visitors, scientists, contractors, or land managers that impact fossils.
• Propose a resolution to some of the major threats to fossil resources—those collected and already in museums and those still in the field.
• Express the concept of nonrenewable

Theme 6

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument was set aside for scientific research because its Pliocene fossils provide the opportunity to understand an important portion of the history of life. The fossils include animals with ties to Eurasia, South America and Africa, as well as many that live in the Hagerman Valley today.

Sample Topics and Concepts
• migration • evolution • sea level changes • mountain formation • competition/extinction • sister park • Smithsonian and other universities/research organizations that study fossils • adaptation • climate change • behavior • names of modern animals • geologic time • other NPS fossil parks

Related Stories and Ideas
• Show how new science discoveries often lead to more questions.
• Define biogeography, which is what first suggested to Charles Darwin that species evolve from a common ancestor.
• Relate how the past is a key to the present (and vice versa). Consider deep time’s contribution to understanding modern biology and environments.
• Map the range of current animals compared with their Pliocene counterparts.
• Diagram the time periods covered by NPS fossil parks.
• Posit connections between Sibiloi and Hagerman.
• Identify other parks, museums, and places where fossils are studied.

Theme 7

People have lived in the Hagerman Valley for at least 10,000 years; their presence is recorded on the landscape in various ways.

Sample Topics and Concepts
• Native Americans • irrigation • Oregon trail • hatcheries • hunting and poaching • exotic/invasive plants • dams • wind turbines • fishing • air pollution • past and present farming techniques • mining (gold and gravel) • sheep and cattle ranching • recreation

Related Stories and Ideas
• Describe how fossils have been used, studied, and understood in different ways.
• Relate the westward travel of people using the Oregon Trail to other migrations.
• Show the changes in land use of the Hagerman Valley and surrounding area.
• Suggest ways to mitigate human caused changes to the park lands.
• Distinguish between the work of archeologists and paleontologists to understand how each discipline interprets the changes that have occurred.
• What stories are missing from the park’s human history and how can they be uncovered?

Theme 8

The Pliocene provides compelling evidence of the impact of climate change on animals and plants similar to those found in the world today. Hagerman Fossil Beds offer a venue for discussing the effects of past, current and future climate change.

Sample Topics and Concepts
• climate change • species presence and distribution • conservation • disease • economics of change in environments • invasive species • geologic and biologic processes • plate tectonics • solar radiation • bore holes and cores • glaciers • stable isotopes • radiation

Related Stories and Ideas
• Examine the changes to Hagerman during the Pliocene and contrast them with on-going changes in today’s environment.
• Argue for how context in the fossil record assists in understanding today’s changes.
• Explain how human alterations to the environment, in the broadest sense, can empower disease-carrying organisms.
• Compare past mass extinctions and their causes to today's extinctions.
• Design a vision of the Earth in the far future after reviewing trends including those in the fossil record.
• Study how a climate record has been assembled, and continues to grow based on multiple kinds of evidence.

Last updated: December 18, 2017

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