Introducing Geology Students to Fossils

How does Steve Wolfe, Historical Geology instructor at PCC-Fremont Campus, prepare his students for field season observations?  One way is by introducing them to fossils:  fossils found locally and fossils that can aid in identification and dating certain sedimentary layers (biostratigraphy).

We presented Fossil Boot Camp to 24 of his students, most with no previous understanding of nor interest in paleontology.  These students were introduced to crinoids, ammonites, trilobites and baculites, and 12 other fossils.

They learned how to tell the difference between clams and brachipods, and what Mary Anning did with a 180 million year old ink sack from a belemnite.  (She drew a picture of a belemnite.)

Instructor Steve Wolfe with a gorgeous chunk of colonial coral.

Sometimes petrified wood and dinosaur bone look a lot alike.  Harold Taylor explained how to see the cellular structure of bone for positive identification.

Fossil trilobites from Oklahoma and Morocco, located 4,000 miles apart today, look almost exactly alike.  What can that tell paleontologists and geologists?  That 450 million years ago these locations shared the same continental shelf, helping scientists determine the location of the continental plates at that time and their subsequent movements involved in our planet’s intricate plate tectonics.

How long does it take wood to petrify?  It all depends on the environment, location, and deposition.  Harold gave some fascinating details of 15 million year old wood that is still wood and 13 year old wood that has already begun to petrify.

The session ended with a few words about legal fossil collecting and responsible collecting.  Some questions went unanswered – the opportunity for a bit of individual research.  We enjoyed the opportunity to share our passion for fossils with a group of geology enthusiasts, and perhaps play a role in their appreciation for the richness beneath our feet that surrounds our community.

Presenter Harold Taylor with the PCC Historical Geology students
Loretta Bailey explains that she found one of these behind her home in Cañon City. It’s a Didymoceras, a strangely coiled ammonite

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