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Apreliminary investigation of National Park Service paleontological resources in cultural resource contexts, Part 1: general overview

Lucas, S.G., Spielmann, J.A., Hester, P.M., Kenworthy, J.P. and Santucci, V.L., eds., 2006, Fossils from Federal Lands. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 34.
1Geologic Resources Division, National Park Service, McLean, VA, 22101;
2National Park Service, McLean, VA, 22101
Abstract—At least 180 National Park Service areas preserve paleontological resources. While most of these fossils
are found in situ, some are “exposed” in cultural resource contexts. This paper serves as the first in a series that,
together, will form a preliminary inventory of National Park Service fossils found in cultural resource contexts.
These contexts include archeological resources, ethnographic stories and legends, prehistoric and historic struc-
tures and other documented historical occurrences. Fossils are found as tools, jewelry or other spiritual items in
National Park Service archeological sites. Ethnographic stories and legends told by American Indians and “moun-
tain men” of the American West also incorporate fossils found within areas now administered by the National Park
Service. Many building stones found in prehistoric and historic structures of the National Park Service display
fossils including body fossils, trace fossils and petrified wood. In addition, various archives, journals, memoirs and
photographs include numerous other historical accounts of fossils in areas of the National Park Service. This paper
introduces the concept for an inventory of such occurrences, highlights a few examples and aims to encourage park
staff and researchers to view paleontological resources with regards to the cultural resource contexts where they
may occur.
Inventory efforts throughout the National Park Service (NPS)
currently identify at least 180 NPS areas known to preserve paleonto-
logical resources. Increased awareness of paleontological resources has
broadened awareness of the contexts in which those resources are found.
Most NPS fossils are found in situ in the exposed bedrock of a park.
However, fossils found in some parks are not found in situ, but “ex-
posed” in a variety of cultural resource contexts. Fossils, or references to
them, are found in archeological sites, ethnographic stories and legends,
prehistoric and historic structures and other documented historic occur-
This paper, as a general overview, is the first in a series that will
form a preliminary inventory of such paleontological resources found in
cultural resource contexts throughout the NPS. This effort is very much
a work in progress. With this paper we aim to summarize the various
cultural resource contexts that include fossils, highlight a small cross
section of known examples and promote interest and awareness of such
occurrences. Future papers will delve deeper into the subject and present
additional examples. We encourage paleontologists, archeologists, histo-
rians and other park personnel to see how the stories told in their park’s
paleontology, archeology and history intertwine. As awareness of pale-
ontological resources grows throughout the NPS, and other land manage-
ment agencies, so too will an appreciation for those fossils found in
cultural resource contexts.
As outlined in the 2001 NPS Management Policies, cultural re-
sources in the National Park Service are broadly categorized as: archeo-
logical resources, cultural landscapes, ethnographic resources, historic
and prehistoric structures and museum collections. Fossils are found in
all of these cultural resource categories, however, not all are applicable to
the current discussion. For instance, cultural landscapes include prima-
rily large-scale physical attributes, biotic systems and viewsheds. As
such, they are not typically relevant to discussions on paleontological
resources. Also, while many parks have paleontological specimens in
their museum collections, a separate discussion on them is generally
beyond the scope of this inventory. In addition to archeological resources,
ethnographic resources and prehistoric and historic structures, we will
also consider other historically significant occurrences of fossils within
NPS areas. Such occurrences are found in historical archives or other
documents such as journals, memoirs or photographs.
As defined by the NPS Archeology Program, archeological re-
sources are any physical evidences of past human activity at least 100
years old. This includes artifacts such as tools, pottery, jewelry or spiri-
tual objects. Human interest in paleontological resources is not a recent
phenomenon. Many American Indians utilized fossils as tools or incor-
porated them into spiritual objects or jewelry. Examples date back a few
hundred to thousands of years. Several NPS areas preserve such re-
sources, including those below.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona (PEFO)
In a “textbook” example of a paleontological resource recognized
as a cultural resource, archeologists at Petrified Forest National Park
uncovered projectile points (arrowheads) fashioned from the park’s name-
sake Triassic petrified wood (primarily Araucarioxylon arizonicum) (Fig.
1). Mayor (2005, p. 159) reported that John Wesley Powell visited what
FIGURE 1. Petrified wood shaped into a projectile point, Petrified Forest
National Park, Arizona. Size of projectile: 5.75 cm x 3.2 cm. NPS Photo/T.
Scott Williams.
is now PEFO in the late 19th century and observed American Indians
chipping arrowheads and axes from the petrified wood.
George Washington Birthplace National Monuent,
Virginia (GEWA)
Fossil sharks teeth, typical of the Miocene Calvert Formation,
have been found within the park in direct association with shell middens
dating back to the Late Archaic (5,000-3,200 years before present, ybp),
Middle Woodland (2,500-1,100 ybp) and Late Woodland (1,100-400
ybp) periods. The serrated sharks teeth (one tentatively identified as a
snaggletooth shark) are up to about one inch in length and are still quite
sharp. Their association with the shell middens is thought to suggest
their use as “scrapers” for removing meat from the bivalves, although
there is not yet definitive evidence of this practice. (R. Morawe, per-
sonal commun., 2003, 2005).
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (GRCA)
The many rock shelters, alcoves and caves within Grand Canyon
National Park contain exceptionally well-preserved archeological resources.
Occasionally these archeological resources are associated with much older
paleontological resources. For example, some cairns include packrat
middens, probably of Late Pleistocene age (Emslie et al., 1987; Santucci
et al., 2001). A number of the well-known split-twig figurines found
within the park have dung pellets (potentially from the bighorn sheep,
Ovis canadensis) wrapped inside of them (Emslie et al., 1987, 1995).
Apparently, some GRCA caves with abundant paleontological resources
seemed to attract prehistoric peoples. In turn, these peoples left offer-
ings of split twig figures and grass bundles (Mayor 2005, p. 163 refer-
encing Paul Martin).
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio (HOCU)
Sharks teeth and other fossils discovered in the mortuary offer-
ings of American Indians in Ohio, date back approximately 2000 years
(M. Lynott, personal commun., 2005). Museum collections at HOCU
include 13 shark teeth that, according to their catalog description, may
have originally been part of a necklace (J. Pederson, personal commun.,
2005). Further investigation may identify the age of the sharks teeth and
their original source, as well as their connection to the Hopewell Indians.
According to current NPS Management Policies (2001), a park’s
ethnographic resources are the cultural and natural features of a park that
are of traditional significance to traditionally associated peoples. In the
context of this paper, we are interested in those stories and legends that
mention paleontological resources associated with NPS areas. While pa-
leontologists generally focus on the scientific significance of specimens,
ethnographic stories and legends, primarily told by American Indians,
offer a unique perspective into the traditional cultural or spiritual signifi-
cance of fossils. Such cultural or spiritual significance can be above and
beyond any associated scientific significance. Adrienne Mayor’s (2005)
recently published book describes many such stories and legends through-
out the country. A number of these legends are tied either directly or
indirectly with fossils found in NPS areas, especially in the Great Plains
and Southwest. In addition to the stories of the American Indians, the
“mountain men” of the American West also told stories of fantastic
landscapes and natural features before the subsequent scientific surveys
of the West in the late 1800s. Their frequently colorful descriptions
occasionally mention fossils, including some found within NPS areas.
Ethnographic stories and legends present exceptional interpretive op-
portunities as they illustrate direct human connections with paleonto-
logical resources. Below is a sample of ethnographic stories and legends
connected with NPS paleontological resources
Big Bend National Park, Texas (BIBE)
The largest known flying creature was the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus
northropi, with an estimated 11 meter wingspan. Quetzalcoatlus was
originally described from a specimen discovered in BIBE (Lawson, 1975).
The pterosaur is named after the Aztec Feathered Serpent god
Quetzalcoatl. Similar fossils have been found in the traditional Aztec
homeland in northern Mexico and the southwest United States. The
bones of this giant pterosaur may have influenced the image of mythic
figures such as Quetzalcoatl although there is currently no definitive
evidence of such a connection (Mayor, 2005).
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska (AGFO)
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was originally authorized
in 1965 to preserve the abundant and diverse fossils found primarily in
the Miocene Marsland and Harrison formations (Kiver and Harris, 1999).
The Miocene mammalian fossils from the monument include bones of
Menoceras (rhinoceros), Moropus (chalicothere), Daphoenodon
(beardog), Dinohyus (pig-like scavenger) and Stenomylus (gazelle-like
ungulate) among many other genera (National Park Service, 1980). Pale-
ontologists recognized the significance of the site in the early 1900s and
collected hundreds of specimens from localities known as Carnegie and
University Hills (National Park Service, 1980). The Lakota Sioux, how-
ever, know those localities as A’bekiya Wama’kaskan s’e (“Animal Bones
Brutally Scattered About”) (Mayor, 2005). As reported by Mayor (2005)
these bones found at Agate Springs were considered “bad medicine”
originating from the malevolent Unktehi monsters. Conversely, the fos-
sils of the beaver Paleocastor and its distinctive spiral burrow, Daemonelix,
were thought to protect people from the “evil” fossils. According to the
Lakota legend, the beaver volunteered to sacrifice themselves, becoming
stone to offset the “bad medicine” of the Unktehi bones (Mayor, 2005).
A traditional buffalo hide wintercount calendar is on display in the park’s
Visitor Center and includes a number of paleontology-related pictographs.
The wintercount was created in 1997 by a Lakota artist working with
park staff and is a modern attempt to link the fossil resources and Ameri-
can Indian cultural resource collection of AGFO through a traditional
Indian method of recording history (M. Hertig, personal commun., 2006).
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana (YELL)
Jim Bridger is one of the better known and colorful mountain men.
Although his “tall tales”, particularly of the area that would become
Yellowstone National Park, were embellished over the years, they are
generally based in genuine observations. Haines (1974) recounts a mid-
late 1800s exchange (originally published in Miles, 1897, p. 137) be-
tween General Nelson A. Miles and Jim Bridger. Miles tells Bridger of
the “great trees with limbs and bark all turned to stone” he saw when
visiting what would become Petrified Forest National Park. Bridger re-
sponded “O, that’s peetrifaction. Come with me to Yellowstone next
summer, and I’ll show you peetrifed trees a-growing, with peetrified
birds on ‘em a-signing peetrified songs”. According to Haines (1974),
Bridger’s story may be a rehashing of a story told by fellow mountain
man Moses “Black” Harris in 1823. Nevertheless, the petrified forests
of Yellowstone National Park include numerous upright in situ trees as
well as 27 successive layers of fossil forests as summarized by Santucci
(1998). The volcaniclastic sediments of the early-middle Eocene Sepul-
cher and Lamar River Formations of the Absaroka Volcanic Supergroup
(Smedes and Protska, 1972) preserve these exceptional paleontological
Throughout the National Park Service are literally tens of thou-
sands of prehistoric and historic structures including American Indian
dwellings and structures, visitor centers, lodges, houses, schools, churches,
courthouses, stores, factories and mills, monuments and memorials, tun-
nels and roads, dams, bridges, military facilities and innumerable out-
buildings and other structures. Many of these structures are constructed,
faced or ornamented with natural stone either found locally or imported
from other parts of the country or world. Paleontological resources are
found in some of these limestones, sandstones, or shales, creating unique
occurrences of fossils in at least 19 NPS areas. Six examples of fossils in
association with NPS structures are described below. Prehistoric and
historic structures therefore are the most common cultural resource to
display fossils, and likely the most visible to visitors.
Fossil occurrences in these structures may be a result of happen-
stance (e.g., suitable local material happened to be fossiliferous) or by
design (e.g., a particular fossiliferous stone was desired). Fossils in pre-
historic and historic structures include body fossils, petrified wood and
trace fossils as summarized below. Body fossils represent actual physi-
cal morphological elements of the organism such as shells, bones, teeth
and leaves or molds/casts of such parts. For example, limestones, which
can be almost entirely composed of body fossils or fragments of marine
organisms, are commonly used as building stones. Petrified wood is
particularly well suited as a “building stone” due to its aesthetic proper-
ties and durability and is highlighted here. Trace fossils, such as burrows,
tracks/trackways or coprolites, represent evidence of an organism’s ac-
tivity without preserving any part of the actual organism.
Lincoln Memorial and Capitol Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C.
Located at opposite ends of the National Mall, both the Lincoln
Memorial (interior walls and columns) and Capitol Reflecting Pool (bor-
der stones and steps) were constructed with the extraordinarily fossilif-
erous Mississippian Salem Limestone. This rock is commonly referred
to by the trade name Indiana Limestone. Indiana Limestone is an exten-
sively quarried building stone (Patton and Carr, 1982) utilized in numer-
ous buildings across the United States including the Pentagon, the De-
partment of the Interior building and dozens of other federal buildings in
Washington, D.C. The Empire State Building in New York City is also
constructed with Indiana Limestone. Nearly 190 species have been iden-
tified in the Salem Limestone of Indiana including: foraminifera, sponges,
coral, bryozoans, brachiopods, bivalves, gastropods, cephalopods, os-
tracods, crinoids and fish, all indicative of a shallow water environment
(Cumings et al., 1906). At the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Reflect-
ing Pool, fragmented corals, crinoid columnals, bryozoan fronds and
mollusk shells are easily visible. At the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the
surrounding limestone matrix weathers away more rapidly than the fos-
sils, creating a unique surface relief where the fossils appear to be coming
out of the rock (Fig. 2).
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Florida (CASA)
The walls of Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695, were
constructed of coquina from the Pleistocene Anastasia Formation
(Schroeder and Klein, 1954). The coquina was quarried on Anastasia
Island, now part of Anastasia State Park. The park actively interprets
the coquina quarries (Florida State Parks, 2006). The clam Donax
variabilis is the primary shell of the CASA coquina. The coquina was
relatively soft and easy to quarry, and was found to absorb the impact of
cannon balls with minimal damage to the walls of the fortification (Florida
State Parks, 2006). Coquina (Spanish for “tiny shell”), is geologically
defined as “any detrital limestone composed of weakly to moderately
cemented broken and abraded shell fragments” (Bates and Jackson, 1984).
Interestingly, this general geologic definition of the word coquina origi-
nated from the Donacidae family of clams (which includes D. variabilis),
which are commonly called coquinas. Therefore, the building stones of
CASA are literally the archetypal coquina.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania (GETT)
Building stones quarried from the Late Triassic-Early Jurassic
Gettysburg Formation at the Trostle Quarry (York Springs, Pa. 24 km
northeast of GETT) were utilized in the construction of bridges within
GETT during the mid 1930s. Fossils are not common within the
Gettysburg Formation; however vertebrate trackways, including those
of dinosaurs, are known from the formation as first reported by Wanner
(1889). Two well-preserved dinosaur tracks are visible in the parapets of
one such bridge within the park. These tracks have been identified as
Atreipus milfordensis and Anchisauripus sp. (Santucci and Hunt, 1995;
J. Jones, personal commun., 2006; A. Hunt, personal commun., 2006).
In 1937, more than 50 additional track-bearing slabs were recovered from
the Trostle Quarry (Cleaves 1937). While many of these tracks were
interpreted by the park and distributed to various museums by park
administration, it is unclear who (aside from the original stone masons)
first noticed the tracks in the park’s bridge (W. Peterson, personal
commun., 2006).
Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania (VAFO)
The early Cambrian Chickies Quartzite is the “type formation”
for the ubiquitous worm burrow trace fossil Skolithos (Wise, 1960; Alpert,
1974). Exposures of the Chickies Quartzite within VAFO are known to
display abundant Skolithos burrows (Wiswall, 1993). The Chickies
Quartzite was used in the façade of the lower visitor center restroom
building. Blocks displaying both vertical and horizontal cross sections of
Skolithos burrows are visible (M. Carfioli, personal commun., 2005).
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona (PEFO)
The Painted Desert’s exceptional abundance and preservation of
petrified wood (primarily Araucarioxylon arizonicum) from the Late
Triassic Chinle Formation led to the creation of Petrified Forest National
Monument (now a national park) in 1906. Petrified wood was utilized in
the construction of two structures within the park, the Painted Desert
Inn and the Agate House Pueblo.
The Painted Desert Inn was originally constructed in 1924 as the
Stone Tree House, referring to the extensive amount of local petrified
wood used in its construction. Much of this petrified wood is now
concealed under a stucco finish. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
applied the stucco during remodeling of the structure to pueblo revival
FIGURE 2. Capitol Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C. A. Overview, showing
fossiliferous Mississippian Salem Limestone blocks. B. Close up, showing
fossil detail and crinoid columnals (width of photo approximately 4 cm).
NPS Photo.
style, following the 1936 NPS acquisition of the inn (Livingston, 1992).
The Agate House Pueblo is a much older structure dating back to
the Pueblo II-III period (approximately 900-1200 AD). Petrified wood
was used almost exclusively for the construction of Agate House, and
apparently a few other prehistoric pueblos within the park as well (Reed,
1940). The CCC partially reconstructed Agate House to its present
appearance in 1934 (Fig. 3).
Washington Monument Commemorative Stones, Washington,
Petrified wood obtained in the Chalcedony Forest outside of Pet-
rified Forest National Park was incorporated into the Washington Monu-
ment as the Arizona Stone in 1924. This striking stone (Fig. 4) consists
of nearly 6,000 pounds of an Araucarioxylon arizonicum log, cut into
three sections (National Park Service, 2003). The state’s name is en-
graved across the logs and painted with gold leaf. Apparently a copy of
represent extraordinarily significant finds. In this section, however, we
look beyond those well-documented examples and share just a few of the
perhaps more obscure historic occurrences of fossils, or references to
them, in NPS areas. There are undoubtedly numerous others, and we
certainly welcome any additions or comments. Some specimens men-
tioned below are themselves historically significant. In other cases, a
specimen’s significance is derived more from the who, when, where or
why they were collected rather than what was collected.
Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia (COLO)
While many parks have a record of fossil collection that extends
back even as far as the early 1800s, the area surrounding what is now
Colonial National Historical Park has been the site of fossil collecting for
nearly 320 years! Ward and Blackwelder (1975) tell the fascinating story
behind the first described and figured fossil from America (Fig. 5), found
in Martin Lister’s 1687 Historiae Conchyliorum, Liber III (“History of
the Mollusks, Volume 3”). Lister did not name the scallop-like shell in his
description. Unfortunately, as he did not actually collect the specimen,
he misinterpreted the collecting locality as the Virgin Islands, rather than
Virginia. Thomas Say (1824) recognized that the fossil described by
Lister came from the Atlantic Coastal Plain rather than the Virgin Islands.
No fossil or living pectinids are known from the Virgin Islands according
to Ward and Blackwelder (1975). Say (1824) subsequently named the
species Pecten jeffersonius, (renamed Chesapecten jeffersonius, Ward
and Blackwelder, 1975). Like Lister though, Say misinterpreted the origi-
nal collecting locality, identifying the fossil as coming from Miocene
deposits in Maryland. Based on many subsequent collections that in-
clude Chesapecten jeffersonius near Yorktown, Virginia, the Pliocene
Yorktown Formation appears to be the likely source of Lister’s original
FIGURE 3. Agate House, constructed of petrified wood (primarily
Araucarioxylon arizonicum), Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. NPS
FIGURE 4. Petrified wood (Araucarioxylon arizonicum) in the Arizona
Stone, Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. NPS Photo.
F. H. Knowlton’s (1889) publication on the petrified wood of Arizona
and a photograph of petrified trees near Holbrook are also incorporated
into the state stone (Author unknown 1924). At least a half dozen of
WAMO’s commemorative stones display fossils (Kenworthy and
Santucci 2004), although the Arizona Stone is the most dramatic of the
fossiliferous stones. National Park Service (2003) and Jacob (2005) sum-
marize all 193 commemorative stones, from every state, many countries
and dozens of organizations, within the monument.
A rich history of paleontological resource research and collection
dating back to the early or middle 1800s and 1900s exists in many NPS
areas. Many of the specimens collected during those research efforts
FIGURE 5. Copy of Martin Lister’s 1687 figure of Chesapecten jeffersonius,
the first figured and described fossil from North America, likely collected
near Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia. Ward and Blackwelder
(1975, pl. 1).
material (Ward and Blackwelder, 1975). The Yorktown Formation is
famous for its extraordinary fossil diversity and many fossils have been
found within COLO (Ward and Blackwelder, 1980). While the exact
collection locality of Lister’s specimen is not known, it is likely near,
perhaps even within, the current boundaries of COLO (G. Johnson and
L. Ward, personal commun., 2003). The Virginia General Assembly, rec-
ognizing the historical significance and abundance of the fossil, named
Chesapecten jeffersonius the official state fossil in 1993 (Kenworthy and
Santucci, 2003).
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, Missouri (ULSG)
Julia Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, grew up outside of St.
Louis, Missouri on a farm named White Haven, now the site of ULSG.
Greg McDonald, senior curator of natural history for the NPS, visited
the site in 2005 and noticed a large chunk of fossil coral sitting just
outside the house (Fig. 6). Inquiring with park staff, McDonald learned
the piece of coral was entwined in the roots of a tree that blew over in a
storm (G. McDonald, personal commun., 2005). Interestingly, Pam
Sanfilippo, ULSG historian, recalled a passage, below, in Julia Grant’s
memoirs (published posthumously in 1975) mentioning “petrified hon-
eycomb”, very likely a similar piece of fossil coral.
Once, when I was about nine years old, I, with my dusky
train, had wandered far up the brook and deeper than
usual into the woods when we came upon a beautiful, shad-
owy, moss-covered nook. My little maids exclaimed: ‘Oh!
Miss Julia! Have this for your playhouse, and we will mark
it out with all the pretty stones we can find.’ Hastening to the
brook, they gathered all the ‘petrified honeycomb’ and round
boulders they could find, placing these so as to mark the
supposed walls of my mansion.” (Grant, 1975, p. 36).
FIGURE 6. Large block of coral from Ulysses S. Grant National Historic
Site, Missouri. NPS Photo/Pam Sanfilippo.
Grant is probably referring to Gravois Creek, which flows east of
ULSG. Thompson (1928) described exposures along Gravois Creek and
measured a section at Grant Road quarry, just outside of ULSG. The
abundantly fossiliferous limestone found there was identified as the
Mississippian St. Louis Limestone near the contact with the underlying
Salem Limestone (“Spergen formation”) by Thompson (1928). The tabu-
late coral Syringopora is a common fossil in the St. Louis Limestone
(Thompson 1928).
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (LECL)
The 5955 km (3700 mile) Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail
commemorates the famous three-year voyage of discovery led by
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark beginning in 1804. The journey
was for the most part the dream of President Thomas Jefferson who was
curious about the far western frontier. Jefferson, in fact wrote to French
naturalist Bernard Lacépède in 1803, stating his hope that “this voyage
of discovery will procure us further information of the Mammoth, & of
the Megatherium…and an enormous animal incognitum [Megalonyx]”
(Jefferson, 1803). Among the numerous discoveries credited to Lewis
and Clark, reports of fossils occur in their journals and through other
historic accounts. For example, during their travel in western Iowa during
1804, near the confluence of the Missouri River and Soldier Creek, Lewis
and Clark discovered in a cave a petrified jawbone of some large, un-
known creature (Simpson, 1942). The fossil was later identified and
described as an enormous lizard-headed fish named Saurocephalus
lanciformis. Today the specimen is in the collections of Natural Acad-
emy of Sciences in Philadelphia. This discovery has been a mystery to
paleontologists including Simpson because this fossil specimen is known
only from the Cretaceous Niobrara Chalk of western Nebraska or Kan-
sas. The cave from which the specimen was collected is near Council
Bluffs, Iowa, and the area surrounding Soldier’s Creek is covered by
Pleistocene loess deposits. Mayor (2005) hypothesized that the Creta-
ceous fish fossil may have been transported from Nebraska or Kansas to
the cave by American Indians.
Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi (VICK)
John Wesley Powell is certainly one of the most well known
figures in North American geology. Before his explorations of the west in
the 1870s, he served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. In 1863, he
was stationed at Vicksburg. There are many accounts (e.g. Dellenbaugh,
1902; Moring, 2002) of John Wesley Powell collecting fossils from around
the Federal earthworks during the siege of Vicksburg (D. Dockery, per-
sonal commun., 2005). According to Moring (2002) John Stewart, an
amateur geologist and paleontologist who accompanied Powell on his
second Colorado River expedition, first met Powell at Vicksburg as both
were looking for fossils. There is no shortage of paleontological resources
in the Vicksburg area. Most of the earthworks were probably excavated
into the extensive Pleistocene loess deposits that blanket the area. This
loess contains an abundant gastropod fauna and has even produced mast-
odon remains south of Vicksburg (Mellen, 1941; Kolb et al., 1976).
Exposures of the Oligocene Vicksburg Group near Mint Spring Bayou
within the park have produced an extraordinary diversity of marine
invertebrates (e.g. Mellen, 1941; Kolb et al., 1976; Dockery 1982; McNeil
and Dockery, 1984). Powell’s Vicksburg collection may have been housed
in the Illinois State Natural History Society where he served as curator in
the late 1860s (Dellenbaugh, 1902). Further investigation may yield
additional information regarding the whereabouts and extent of this col-
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado (FLFO)
The world-renowned paleontological resources of FLFO are ex-
traordinarily diverse and well preserved (see Meyer 2003). Fossils from
the late Eocene Florissant Formation include nearly 2,000 known spe-
cies of fossils, three-quarters of which are insects. Fossil spiders, fish,
birds and mammals are also found in the formation in addition to a
significant floral assemblage and large pieces of petrified wood. The
petrified wood, primarily Sequioa affinis (redwood), attracted the atten-
tion of a seemingly unlikely paleontological resource “manager”, Walt
Disney. In 1956, Disney visited the privately owned Pike Petrified For-
est; now a part of FLFO (established 1969). He personally purchased a
large petrified stump 2.3 m in diameter and weighing some five tons from
the owners (Meyer 2003; D. Smith, personal commun., 1999) appar-
The NPS generally makes a distinction between natural resources
(including fossils) and cultural resources. Indeed, paleontologists and
archeologists have all spent time explaining the differences in their re-
spective disciplines. However, fossils found in cultural resource con-
texts, such as those summarized in this paper, reinforce the
interconnectivity of humans and their natural surroundings. This
interconnectivity of these “cultural resource fossils” creates incredible
interpretive opportunities. Awareness of this interconnectivity and, in
some cases, sacred values associated with some paleontological resources
or localities, should be considered in interpretation and paleontological
resource management decisions.
Paleontological resource management policy in the NPS generally
focuses on in situ occurrences (1998 NPS Omnibus Management Act
Section 207, NPS 2001 Management Policies Section, and NPS
DO 77 (Natural Resource Management)). Therefore, fossils found in
cultural resource contexts may be subject to the legislative protection
and management/preservation guidance found in the 1979 Archeological
Resources Protection Act (ARPA), 1990 Native American Graves Pro-
tection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), NPS 2001 Management Poli-
cies Section 5.3, and NPS Directors Orders (DO) 28 (Cultural Resources
Management) and DO 29 (in development, Ethnography Program).
A number of people contributed valuable information, photo-
graphs, and/or suggestions for this paper as the information has been
compiled over the last few years. Thanks to: Sonya Berger (Gila Cliff
Dwellings National Monument Chief of Interpretation), Meghan Carfioli
(VAFO Ecologist), David Dockery (Geologist, Mississippi Office of
Geology), Marcia Fagnant (Fossil Butte National Monument Lead In-
terpreter), ReBecca Hunt (Paleontology Research Assistant, Augustana
College), Gerry Johnson (Professor Emeritus, College of William and
Mary), Mark Lynott (NPS Midwest Archeological Center Supervisory
Archeologist), Greg McDonald (NPS Senior Curator of Natural Re-
sources), Herb Meyer (FLFO Paleontologist), Rijk Morawe (GEWA
Integrated Resources Program Manager), Jennifer Pederson (HOCU Ar-
cheologist), Winona Peterson (GETT Historian), Chuck Rafkind (retired
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... If there is no geologic record, the cell is left blank. Other types of fossil occurrences, such as fossils found in a cultural resource context (Kenworthy and Santucci, 2006), fossiliferous building stone , or reworked fossils, are noted with letters. ...
... Cultural specimens are fossils found with a cultural context, such as fossils associated with an archeological site. This mode includes a wide variety of fossils and occurrences (Kenworthy and Santucci, 2006). Specimens with a cultural context may be local or plausibly local to a park, or may have been transported from outside the park. ...
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The data assembled for the National Park Service's Paleontology Synthesis Project (PSP) have made it feasible to analyze the geochronological scope of NPS paleontological resources. Paleontological resources have been documented for 283 NPS units and affiliated areas; 245 have confirmed in situ or reworked fossils. From this subset, the NPS record of paleontological resources spans from the Mesoproterozoic to the Quaternary, well over a billion years of Earth's history. In general, record distribution is related to the recency of a given time division and its duration: more recent divisions are more frequently represented by park fossils than older divisions, and longer divisions are more frequently represented than shorter divisions. Other factors influencing distribution include the presence or absence of organisms with mineralized body structures; the geographic distribution of parks (e.g., there are relatively few large eastern NPS units); and existing knowledge (paleontological work has been more heavily focused on western parks). Dividing time by eras in the Precambrian, periods in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic, and epochs in the Cenozoic, it can be seen that the most frequently represented divisions are the Cretaceous Period (fossils confirmed from 73 NPS units) and the Pleistocene (107) and Holocene (121) epochs. Almost all other divisions are represented by 25-45 NPS units. Park size is a major factor in how many divisions are represented at a given park; the two parks with the most complete records are Death Valley National Park and Denali National Park & Preserve. This analysis is another illustration of the large-scale questions that can be studied by the PSP. INTRODUCTION The National Park Service (NPS) includes some of the most notable fossil localities and fossiliferous strata in the United States, with a record of life extending back in time from the Quaternary well into the Mesoproterozoic. A great deal of information exists for this fossil record, as scientific publications, internal memos, informal communications, researchers' field notes, museum records, photographs, newspaper articles, and other documentation. In 2012, the NPS Paleontology Program began an ambitious project to organize this information (Paleontology Synthesis Project, or PSP) and archive it (NPS Paleontology Archives and Library), as documented in Santucci et al. (2018). These efforts have greatly improved the capacity of the NPS Paleontology Program to assess the paleontological resources of each park, make comparisons between park units, respond to queries from NPS staff and others, support research, and prepare reports on park resources. The PSP format also provides a framework for adding new information on paleontological resources in parks, and has helped to identify deficiencies in the knowledge base and areas of high potential for future discoveries. Several thematic files were created as part of the organization of the PSP, collating information pertaining to specific topics including: holotype specimens from NPS areas (Tweet et al., 2016); museum repositories holding NPS fossils; the taxonomic diversity of NPS fossils (Tweet and Santucci, 2021); and the subject of this report, the servicewide occurrence of fossils over geologic time. The temporal distribution of the fossils found in NPS units has never been systematically investigated, and there was no framework for investigating this topic before the initiation of the PSP. The assembled data presented here provide a picture of the breadth and depth of the collective NPS paleontological record through geologic time.
... Examples of paleontological resources in cultural contexts include, but are not limited to: fossils used by people for various purposes, such as petrified wood used for tools, spear points, and other artifacts, or fossil shells picked up as charms or simply because they looked interesting; associations of prehistoric humans with paleontological resources, such as kill sites of mammoths, prehistoric bison, and other extinct animals; incorporation of fossils into cultural records, such as fossils in American Indian lore, "tall tales" of mountain men, and emigrant journals; and fossils in building stone. Kenworthy and Santucci (2006) presented an overview and cited selected examples of National Park Service fossils found in cultural resource contexts. ...
Full-text available
Technical Report
A report on the paleontological resources found in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota including local geology, taxonomy of local fossils, fossil localities within the park, museum collections and paleontological archives of materials found in the park, a review of park paleontological research, paleontological interpretation, and paleontological resource management and protection.
... Examples of paleontological resources in cultural contexts include, but are not limited to: fossils used by people for various purposes, such as petrified wood used for tools, spear points, and other artifacts, or fossil shells picked up as charms or simply because they looked interesting; associations of prehistoric humans with paleontological resources, such as kill sites of mammoths, prehistoric bison, and other extinct animals; incorporation of fossils into cultural records, such as fossils in American Indian lore, "tall tales" of mountain men, and emigrant journals; and fossils in building stone. Kenworthy and Santucci (2006) presented an overview and cited selected examples of National Park Service fossils found in cultural resource contexts. ...
Full-text available
Technical Report
This is a comprehensive inventory of paleontological resources in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
... More information about paleontological resources found in archeological or cultural contexts within NPS units can be found in Kenworthy and Santucci (2006). ...
Full-text available
Executive Summary: Since Agate Springs Ranch was founded by James H. Cook in 1887, exquisite examples of transitional Miocene mammalian fauna have been found along this stretch of the Niobrara River valley. Collectively these paleontological discoveries, along with the existing archeological and historical Native American collection, were the basis for establishing Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (AGFO) as a unit of the National Park System (NPS). The fossil remains from the Harrison and Anderson Ranch formations span a short, but important, time period within the Miocene Epoch. AGFO has provided science with an intimate look into North American mammalian evolution of the time that is matched nowhere else, with body fossils and trace fossils (burrows) of many mammals in excellent condition. Investigation of the paleontological resources at AGFO has been very limited since its establishment, but the opportunities for research and discovery are still substantial. Public and academic interest in the Monument’s paleontological resources are considerable. Although there are existing legal authorities, policies and guidelines regarding the management of paleontological resources, at both the departmental and agency levels, more specific guidance would be helpful for the management of AGFO’s non-renewable fossils. This document has been prepared to provide more specific guidance and recommendations for paleontological resources management at AGFO.
... Cultural specimens are those fossils found with a cultural context. This mode includes a wide variety of fossils and occurrences (Kenworthy and Santucci, 2006). Cultural specimens may fall under the museum mode as well. ...
Full-text available
The vast taxonomic breadth of the National Park Service (NPS)'s fossil record has never been systematically examined until now. Paleontological resources have been documented within 277 NPS units and affiliated areas as of the date of submission of this publication (Summer 2020). The paleontological records of these units include fossils from dozens of high-level taxonomic divisions of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates, as well as many types of ichnofossils and microfossils. Using data and archives developed for the NPS Paleontology Synthesis Project (PSP) that began in 2012, it is possible to examine and depict the broad taxonomic diversity of these paleontological resources. The breadth of the NPS fossil record ranges from Proterozoic microfossils and stromatolites to Quaternary plants, mollusks, and mammals. The most diverse taxonomic records have been found in parks in the western United States and Alaska, which are generally recognized for their long geologic records. Conifers, angiosperms, corals, brachiopods, bivalves, gastropods, artiodactyls, invertebrate burrows, and foraminiferans are among the most frequently reported fossil groups. Small to microscopic fossils such as pollen, spores, the bones of small vertebrates, and the tests of marine plankton are underrepresented because of their size and the specialized equipment and techniques needed to study them. The improved capacity to rapidly analyze the fossil record of NPS units granted by the PSP is valuable for pursuing resource management goals, and for making the wealth of NPS paleontological resources more available for scientific, educational, and interpretive purposes. INTRODUCTION The National Park Service includes some of the most notable fossil localities and fossiliferous strata in the United States, with a record extending back in time from the Quaternary well into the Mesoproterozoic. A great deal of information exists for this fossil record, as scientific publications, internal memos, informal communications, researchers' notes, museum records, photographs, newspaper articles, and other documentation. Beginning in 2012, the NPS Paleontology Program began an ambitious project to organize this information (Paleontology Synthesis Project, or PSP) and archive it (NPS Paleontology Archives and Library), as documented in Santucci et al. (2018). These data have greatly improved the capacity of the NPS Paleontology Program to assess the paleontological resources of each park, make comparisons between park units, respond to queries from NPS staff and others, support research, and prepare reports on park resources. The PSP format also provides a framework for adding new information on paleontological resources in parks, and has helped to identify deficiencies in the knowledge base and areas of high potential for future discoveries. As part of the organization of the PSP, several thematic files were created, collating information pertaining to specific categories including: the servicewide occurrence of fossils over geologic time; holotype specimens from NPS areas (Tweet et al., 2016); museum repositories holding NPS fossils; and the subject of this report, the taxonomic diversity of NPS fossils. The taxonomic diversity of the fossils found in National Park Service units has never been systematically investigated, and there was no framework for investigating this topic before the initiation of the PSP. The assembled data presented here provide a picture of the breadth and depth of taxonomic diversity within the NPS.
... A new genus and species (Lapillitubus montjuichensis) of fossil burrow has recently been detected in the building stones of the modernist architecture of Barcelona Belaústegui et al. 2018). It should be noted that building stones can also foster studies on vertebrates, as shown by the dinosaur tracks reported from the 1930s bridges of the Gettysburg National Military Park, USA (Kenworthy and Santucci 2006). ...
The geoheritage value of sedimentary building stones has mainly focused on physical sedimentary structures and body fossils. By contrast, little attention has been placed on the geoheritage significance of ichnofabrics, which are the sedimentary fabrics that have been reworked by organisms. This study aims to fill this gap by analysing the ichnofabric found on the buildings of Piazza della Vittoria, in Genova (Italy). Here, unusually visible and well-preserved specimens of the fossil burrow Bichordites are observed on the historical buildings designed by Marcello Piacentini, one of the local most prominent architects of the 1930s. The Bichordites of Piazza della Vittoria are winding meniscate burrows with a central string-like structure. Here, we interpret this ichnofabric as the result of the activity of a community of echinoids bioturbating a sand wave system. We have also located the historical quarry that provided material for the studied buildings with the same ichnofossils exposed. Surprisingly, the cuts on display on the buildings are much nicer than those in the outcrops and more taxon specific characteristics can be observed just on the tiles rather than in the field. For all these reasons, the geoheritage value of the Piazza della Vittoria ichnofabric relies in its unique scientific significance, the cultural value, and its potential future applications in research, teaching, urban geotourism and reference site.
... Examples of paleontological resources in cultural contexts include, but are not limited to: fossils used by people for various purposes, such as petrified wood used for tools, spear points, and other artifacts, or fossil shells picked up as charms or simply because they looked interesting; associations of prehistoric humans with paleontological resources, such as kill sites of mammoths, prehistoric bison, and other extinct animals; incorporation of fossils into cultural records, such as fossils in American Indian lore, "tall tales" of mountain men, and emigrant journals; and fossils in building stone. Kenworthy and Santucci (2006) presented an overview and cited selected examples of National Park Service fossils found in cultural resource contexts. ...
Full-text available
This document is an inventory of the paleontological resources of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (CAVE), representing a combination of field work and literature synthesis. It begins with background summaries about the park and its geological, paleontological, and scientific history. It then moves into descriptions of paleontological resources including taxa present, fossil localities, and museum collections. Lastly, it finishes by touching on the relationships paleontological resources have with other CAVE programs such as interpretation and law enforcement, general information about paleontological resource management and protection, and management recommendations. Appendices include lists of fossil taxa found within CAVE, a list of external repositories of paleontological resources, a summary of caves within the park with documented paleontological resources, a listing of pertinent laws and authorities on paleontological resources, and a geologic time scale. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, also a world heritage site, is renowned for the park’s namesake cavern, which is extensive, well decorated, and possesses exceptionally large rooms. Several other caves at the park add to CAVE’s fame and importance, such as Lechuguilla Cave, the eighth longest cave in the world. More than 120 other caves, and numerous additional karst features dissolved out of the Permian-age Capitan Limestone and associated formations such as the Seven Rivers, Yates, and Tansill formations, can be found in the park. These rock units represent the slope, reef, back-reef, and nearshore/evaporite facies of a massive reef complex and shelf system that existed during the middle Permian (Guadalupian); the same rock units exposed within the caves can be found at the surface in nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO). Owing to its origins as a reef complex, the bedrock of CAVE is extensively, and often abundantly, fossiliferous. With the exception of one small exposure of a basinal formation, there is likely no section of the park bedrock where fossils could not be found. Besides the Permian fossils, the fossilized remains and traces of terrestrial Pleistocene and Holocene organisms are located within the caves themselves. These are from roosting sites, dens, or natural traps.
... In the main lobby, a small exhibit, compiled by a previous GIP, contains paleo environment images, fossil specimens, and an explanation of the fossil history of GRCA. These are examples of paleontological resources in cultural contexts; see Kenworthy and Santucci (2006) for further information on similar occurrences. ...
... Such a review was beyond the scope of this current inventory. Kenworthy and Santucci (2006) presented an overview and cited selected examples of National Park Service fossils found in cultural resource contexts. ...
Full-text available
Technical Report
This National Park Service report is the public version of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park paleontological resource inventory. All sensitive paleontological locality data has been redacted from this version of the report.
The diversity crisis in paleontology refers not to modern biota or the fossil record, but rather how our discipline lacks significant representation of individuals varying in race, ethnicity, and other aspects of identity. This Element is a call to action for broadening participation through improved classroom approaches as described in four sections. First, a brief review of the crisis and key concepts are presented. Next, culturally responsive pedagogy and related practices are introduced. Third, specific applications are offered for drawing cultural connections to studying the fossil record. Finally, recommendations including self-reflection are provided for fostering your own cultural competency. Our discipline offers much for understanding earth history and contributing new knowledge to a world impacted by humans. However, we must first more effectively welcome, support, and inspire all students to embrace meaning and value in paleontology; it is critical for securing the future of our field.
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Technical Report
More than 3,600 caves and karst resources have been identified in at least 79 units of the National Park System. In 1998, the National Park Service Geologic Resources Division initiated a servicewide inventory of paleontological resources occurring in association with these caves. The inventory documented at least 35 park areas that preserved fossils within cave resources. Cave-paleontological resources are identified in two categories: 1) fossils preserved within the cave-forming bedrock, and 2) fossils accumulated within the caverns, chambers, or other openings in karst systems. Caves occur in both karst and non-karst areas. Karst caves, and features within them such as stalactites and stalagmites, are formed by a variety of processes. These processes include the dissolution and erosion of sedimentary and evaporitic rocks, and later deposition of minerals from the dissolution process. Within limestones, the remains of marine invertebrate and vertebrate fossils are typically preserved. Paleozoic limestones constitute the parent rock in which many cave and karst features develop in NPS administered areas. Therefore, the fossilized remains of Paleozoic fauna are often the most common types of paleontological resource associated with caves. Caves also form as the result of lava flows (lava tubes), wave action (littoral caves), and by the fracturing of rock (earth cracks). Cave feature development is documented from the Holocene back to the Eocene. Caves, sinkholes, solution tubes, and other karst features attract and can trap animals. Pleistocene and Holocene vertebrate remains are abundant in many caves. Rich deposits of fossil bone can develop either through the accumulation of remains associated with organisms inhabiting the cave, such as Neotoma (packrats), or through a variety of transport mechanisms.
Full-text available
Technical Report
Yellowstone National Park preserves an extensive geologic record ranging from the Precambrian through the Holocene epoch. Except for Silurian period deposits, rocks of nearly every geologic time period are exposed within the boundaries of the park. More than 20 fossiliferous stratigraphic units have been identified at Yellowstone, containing fossil plants, invertebrates, vertebrates and trace fossils. The few fossil specimens in the park museum provide a glimpse into a record of life in the Yellowstone area that extends back hundreds of millions of years. Yellowstone fossil collections within the Smithsonian and other museums, including numerous “type” specimens, are recognized as scientifically and historically significant.
Five previously unreported, relatively undisturbed caves in the high vertical cliffs of Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, provide new information on Archaic culture and the function of split-twig figurines. Radiocarbon dates indicate cultural use of these sites between 4390–3700 B.P. and correspond in age with similar localities in the Grand Canyon. Unlike most other Archaic sites in the Grand Canyon, these sites contain numerous rock cairns as well as cairns built partially or entirely of indurated packrat-midden of late Pleistocene age. Archaic artifacts, including split-twig figurines, appear to be deliberately associated with fossil material of extinct mountain goat (Oreamnos harringtoni) and other vertebrate remains. Though split-twig figurines are assumed to have been associated with hunting ritual, caves for this ceremony may have been chosen for their length and fossil contents. The lack of patterns in cairn construction, size, and location also suggests that each cairn is an individual “signature” left by prehistoric humans who periodically gained entrance to these remote caves. RESUMEN Cinco cuevas buen preservadas en acantilados altos verticales recientemente reportadas en el Parque Nacional del Gran Cañón, están confiriendo con nueva información sobre la cultura arcaica y de la función de las figurillas de ramitas abiertas (split-twig figurines). Fechas de radiocarbón ubican el uso cultural de estos sitios entre 4390–3700 A.P. correspondiendo cronologicamente con otras localidades similares del Gran Cañon. A diferencia de la mayoría de los sitios arcaicos del área, estos sitios contienen numerosos altares de rocas, asi como altares construidos parcial o totalmente de un plaste de nidos de roedores endurecidos del pleistoceno tardío. Los materiales arcaicos incluyen figurillas de ramitas abiertas que parecen estar asociadas a materiales fósiles de cabras montañosas extintas (Oreamnos harringtoni) y otros restos de vertebrados. Las figurillas de ramitas han sido realeionadas con rituales de caza, y es posible que por eso escogieron cuevas con ciertas características y contenido fosil. La falta de uniformidad en la construcción de altares, en el tamaño, y la ubicación también sugieren que cada altar es una “firma” individual dejada por cazadores arcaicos que periodicamente llegaron a estas remotas cuevas.
The burnt-red badlands of Montana's Hell Creek are a vast graveyard of the Cretaceous dinosaurs that lived 68 million years ago. Those hills were, much later, also home to the Sioux, the Crows, and the Blackfeet, the first people to encounter the dinosaur fossils exposed by the elements. What did Native Americans make of these stone skeletons, and how did they explain the teeth and claws of gargantuan animals no one had seen alive? Did they speculate about their deaths? Did they collect fossils?. Beginning in the East, with its Ice Age monsters, and ending in the West, where dinosaurs lived and died, this richly illustrated and elegantly written book examines the discoveries of enormous bones and uses of fossils for medicine, hunting magic, and spells. Well before Columbus, Native Americans observed the mysterious petrified remains of extinct creatures and sought to understand their transformation to stone. In perceptive creation stories, they visualized the remains of extinct mammoths, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and marine creatures as Monster Bears, Giant Lizards, Thunder Birds, and Water Monsters. Their insights, some so sophisticated that they anticipate modern scientific theories, were passed down in oral histories over many centuries. Drawing on historical sources, archaeology, traditional accounts, and extensive personal interviews, Adrienne Mayor takes us from Aztec and Inca fossil tales to the traditions of the Iroquois, Navajos, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Pawnees. Fossil Legends of the First Americans represents a major step forward in our understanding of how humans made sense of fossils before evolutionary theory developed.