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Contact: Sarah Herve, 928-524-6228 x264
The results are in and the two days during which Petrified Forest National Park offered citizens the opportunity to become a paleontologist for a day through the Petrified Forest Field Institute were very productive. One student (contact info available upon request) found the jaw of a long-snouted fish that had previously been thought to be extinct in North America during the Late Triassic, about 220 million years ago. Her discovery will result in a scientific paper that may rewrite our scientific understanding of Late Triassic animal distributions in North America.
The fish, closely related to the genus Saurichthys, is from a group of fish known globally in the Early Triassic but had only been found in China in the Late Triassic.
Additional finds made by the citizen scientists include vertebrae of a very long necked lizard (Tanystropheus) first found in the park only last year and teeth of the large carnivore Poposaurus, both considered rare in the park fossil record.
All students in the two classes found something of value to the park's scientific program. Their finds will be accessioned into the park's permanent museum collection with the name of the student as the person making the find. The site in which the dig occurred is a large and rich site, representing the bottom of an ancient pond or small lake. Its size means the help of citizen scientists is crucial to the park's ability to secure the fossil bones it contains before they erode away.
Park paleontologist Dr. William Parker noted that "our participants have always dreamed of being paleontologists and with this program they not only filled that dream, but also learned that they could make a meaningful contribution to science. The science of paleontology needs people to understand that it is not just about dinosaurs and for little kids, but that understanding the history of life on earth is of interest to everyone."
The Grand Canyon Field Institute (www.grandcanyon.org/learn/grand-canyon-field-institute) will conduct a multi-day class at the same site at Petrified Forest National Park in late September. The Petrified Forest Field Institute will offer additional classes in paleontology next year. There is a schedule of classes in archeology, geology, and photography September and October available at their website www.petrifiedforestfieldinstitute.org.