When park paleontologist Dr. Bill Parker’s group took off the morning of August 8th, they all had high hopes for finding fossils. After all, they had all signed up for his “Dig Fossils for a Day” class with the Petrified Forest Field Institute (PFFI), a new program in its inaugural year. But even the most optimistic participant could not have anticipated an exciting discovery that could rewrite the scientific journals!
One student 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. Prior to her find, the fish, which is closely related to the genus Saurichthys, is from a group of fish known globally in the Early Triassic but up to this point had only been found in China in the Late Triassic.
The class made other finds that were exciting as well. They included 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.
These discoveries help further our understanding of our earth’s history, and the students truly made a meaningful contribution to science. How often can a layperson have such an impact on science today? It is truly a wonderful experience.
Even though PFFI’s next paleontology classes aren’t scheduled until 2016, the Grand Canyon Field Institute is collaborating with Petrified Forest, Bill Parker and Christa Sadler to offer a 5-day class at the same site in late September this year. Visit their Hands-on: Paleontology and Geology in the Land of Color: An Exploration of Petrified Forest National Park page to learn more and register.
If Bill Parker and Christa Sadler’s names sound familiar, it’s because their wonderful new book, Dawn of the Dinosaurs: The Late Triassic in the American Southwest, was just released in early August. It is an update of the 1988 classic with completely new science, text and illustrations—and a beautiful book besides!
The Petrified Forest Field Institute is offering other classes this year, including geology, archaeology, photography, and much more! Be sure to check out their site for a complete listing of their course offerings at www.petrifiedforestfieldinstitute.org.