Fossil Boot Camp at PCC Mini-College
By Cindy Smith
For the 5th straight year, Stones ‘n Bones presented Fossil Boot Camp to 31 senior citizens in the Fremont County community. Due to the popularity of the class and the high amount of material to introduce, we presented a full day class for the first time, giving participants plenty of time to become familiar with common fossils such as ammonites, baculites, trilobites, gastropods (snails), fish scales from Fremont County, and many other fossils.
Community members study the detail in stromatolites, algal mats that provided the first oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere.
This year Andrew Smith, BLM paleontologist with the Royal Gorge Field Office in Cañon City, joined us. Andrew started off the morning with an understandable explanation of a very complex subject – Deep Time. He explained the beginning of Earth’s history 4.6 billion years ago, the major extinction events, and various milestones in life along the way, e.g. the transition from a toxic (to humans) atmosphere into one incorporating oxygen given off by the first photosynthesis from algal mats called stromatolites, marine animals making their way onto land, the evolution of plants and pollinators, and the first primates. He explained the delicate process involved in the preservation of fossils, the rare preservation of soft-bodied fossils, and the regulations for responsible collecting of fossils.
Harold Taylor, retired professor of statistics at the Colorado School of Mines, then provided detailed information about the many common fossils that can be found locally, including the environment they lived in, when they lived, their anatomy, the niche they occupied in the food chain, and the information scientists today can retrieve from the study of paleontology.
Loretta Bailey has done extensive collecting in the Pierre Shale in the Cañon City embayment.
A new addition to our presentation was the study of dinosaur footprints and the information embedded in their spacing. Using simple formulas, students measured their stride and pace, and then determined their speed, which indicated whether they were walking, trotting or running.
From end-of-class participant comments and evaluation forms, it was evident that stromatolites, ammonites, and trilobites were the most interesting to the majority of students. We thoroughly enjoy introducing the joy of fossils to our community, and we readily observe the stimulation and interest this sparks in people of all ages.