Every year I start my Invertebrate Paleontology course by giving every student an “unknown” fossil to identify. (Here is last year’s version.) This is not always easy since each student gets the same species from the same horizon and with the same preservation. As classes get larger (I have 27 students this semester) I have to dig deeper into my collections. I found some good ones today that have enough variation to challenge them.
These students are just beginning the journey, of course, so they usually know little about fossils. This exercise gets them into the online fossil literature immediately, and provokes early questions about the information used in taxonomy and the dilemmas of systematics based on morphology alone. Their task:
- Identify the fossil by scientific name as narrowly as possible. Phylum is a start, then Class, Order and so on down to the grand prize of correctly determining the species.
- Estimate the age of the fossil. Finding the period during which it lived is good; the actual stage it was found in, better.
- Make an educated guess at where this fossil was found. Chances are if you are right about the name and age, and then consider the places my students and I do fieldwork, you’ll come up with at least a region.
Next week I will post here the identity and collecting location of these fossils, along with the name of the student who came the closest to the right answers. You, Dear Reader, can make a guess in the comments!