Traveling Fossil Exhibit at the Fernbank Science Center

Cam here –

I love to educate the public on how important geology and paleontology are. Two Saturdays every month I volunteering my time at my local science center to set up of table of samples of fossils and other geological. I started volunteering for the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia back in 2016. Rick Spears who is a paleoartist and the designer for the science center invited me to give a talk for Earth Science Week.

Half a billion years laid out on a single table by the use of various fossil specimens from my personal collection.
Fossils and rock specimens on display from the Mesozoic Era.
The Cenozoic era with mostly mammalian fossils on display
The Censozoic era with mostly mammalian fossils on display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I gave two main talks, one on trilobites and the other on crinoids. Everyone seemed to really enjoy looking at specimens. I find it very important that everyone has a chance to touch and pick up a fossil. Some fossils in museum are behind glass and in storage tucked away. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make sure that children and even adults have the chance to touch and hold fossil specimens. Children are natural born scientists; they love to touch and interact with things in their environment. For example, that could be a child picking up a rock off the ground or catching and freeing lizards.

Rock and Mineral Specimens on display.

I switch up my exhibits a lot. I love to teach about deep time and how vast the fossil record is. I do this by setting my fossil specimens in chronological order. Each specimen has its own label card and the period in which that fossil is from. This is gives visitors a perspective of old our planet is and the various geological events that happened during that time the fossil plants and animals were alive at the time. People are blown away when they learn that a stromatolite fossil that I have on display is 3.4 billion years old! Not a lot of people have the opportunity to hold the oldest fossil on earth. Each Saturday I switch from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. I could also lay out the entire 4 billion years of earth on the same table at once as well!

I don’t just feature fossils as well. I exhibit rock and mineral specimens as well. In fact, that will be my next exhibit coming up in a few weeks! Adults and parents learn about the various rocks and minerals that are found in Georgia. They get to touch the oldest rock in Georgia which is 1.2 billion years old! Again, not a lot of people have the opportunity to interact with the oldest rock in Georgia. They even get to hold the oldest crustal rock on earth which is the Acasta Gneiss. This rock is 4.2 billion years old. It is always a pleasure to see a person walk away with a smile knowing that were able to hold the oldest rock on earth. It makes me feel that I am making a difference with 1 fossil or rock sample at a time.

Southeastern Geological Society of America Meeting

Jen and Cam here –

Cam ready to present his poster!

This past March we attended the Southeastern Geological Society of America Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Adriane and Jen set up a GoFundMe account to help raise money to support Cam’s travel to the event. This endeavor resulted in a fully funded conference for Cam – and his first professional geology conference experience. If you are interested in reading the abstract we submitted click here.

Cam presented a poster on our use of the #FossilFriday hash tag on social media. His poster was on Thursday morning and he was constantly busy! The data we collected to assess the success of the hash tag was from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Analytics. We looked at how many people the Fossil Friday posts reach and then how many people interacted with the posts – this includes shares, reactions, comments, and clicks on the post. The metrics are slightly different for each social media platform. We also wanted to see if these posts were increasing traffic to the site or if the engagement was mostly constrained to the social media platforms.

These posts are often our highest performing posts – meaning they reach a large amount of people and many of these people interact with the content. So we gathered all of the social media data, calculated a rate of engagement for each post on each platform, and then compared this to our overall site traffic data from Google Analytics. We found that this hashtag did not bring more traffic to our website, even though they are reaching many people outside of our normal community.

This was the very first scientific conference I (Cam) was able to have the pleasure of attending. It was also the first time I did a poster presentation. At the beginning I was quite nervous. I didn’t know what to expect from SE GSA. It wasn’t until I met Jen Bauer that I become comfortable. I did practice sessions with Adriane and Jen many times via Google Hangouts, but I still had a difficult time explaining the information on the poster. When the day for me to present my poster came, I was excited and yet still nervous. I did a practice session with Jen early in the morning and I finally felt confident and motivated. While at GSA I met so many paleontologists. Many of the paleontologists I met already knew me from my constant activity on social media. This just shows how many positives outcomes can come from social media and networking. I didn’t feel out of place at GSA either. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. It was like a big family. There was also a good amount of diversity as well. There was a great amount of scientists with so many different research backgrounds. I received many encouraging words and advice as well.

Crocodile lower jaw (Galvialosuchus) from the collections at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History.
Crocodile lower jaw (Galvialosuchus) from the collections at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History.

On the last day at SE GSA I was invited by my good friends and paleontologists Bobby and Sarah Boessenecker to the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History which is part of the Charleston College to check out the fossil preparation lab and the vertebrate fossil collections. The cetacean (whale, dolphin, and porpoises) fossils were absolutely stunning. I was able to see Dr. Boessenecker clean a whale skull still encased in matrix (rock or sediment that the fossil was found in) that has not yet been published. I was told that the whale was not only a new species but it probably belonged to a new group as well. It’s not everyday you get to see a new species of fossil organism being cleaned right in front of you. Overall, my first GSA trip was great and I can’t wait to embark on other scientific conferences in the future.

Check out Cam talking more about his experience here:

We (Jen and Adriane) hope that one day we can provide more opportunities like this for up-and-coming geologists and paleontologists through Time Scavengers! It was a whirlwind of a few days but Cam greatly benefited from the experience of engaging and networking with so many professionals. He has a wide network of friends on Facebook and many people were very excited to see him in person! One Facebook friend even brought him supplies for his outreach work.

Jen recorded herself describing the poster, check it out here:

I, Jen, also brought several students up from the FOSSIL project to talk about work they have been doing analyzing social media as a tool for reaching audiences online. The two project interns spoke about their work with Instagram. Sam Ocon examined how we can evaluate Instagram stories for their success (abstract here). So thinking about how many people watch a story through to completion and if users interact with the different engagement tools. Mary Jane looked at what sort of Instagram content performs best in terms of posts (abstract here). This has been worked on by our colleagues for some time on Facebook and Twitter so we used their work as a baseline and determined that posts that have informational content and opportunities to visit a museum, apply for job, etc. do the best in terms of users stop to interact with the post, share the post, and so on. MacKenzie spoke about his work with creating YouTube videos and if there was a type of video that performed better in the first 30 days (abstract here). His data was a little all over the place but in general the shift in creating shorter more information filled videos has been beneficial for the channel.

A few of our shark friends came up with us too from the department you can read their abstracts here and here.

It was really great getting to see some old friends from the University of Tennessee at the meeting. I got to catch up with a lot of close geology friends. These small meetings are so excellent and I really enjoy helping prepare students for their first academic conference!

MacKenzie presenting his talk on the FOSSIL YouTube channel!
Sam presenting her poster on Instagram stories!
Mary Jane presenting her poster on Instagram post content!

Searching for Cambrian Trilobites in Georgia

Cam here-

Figure 1. Asa and Jess searching for trilobite fossils near the edge of the Conasauga River.

On May 7th I lead two fossil hunters to an accessible fossil locality in Murray County, Georgia. The locality is part of the Conasauga Shale Formation. This rock unit runs through Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. It is made of shales and mudstones that were deposited during the Cambrian Period (~541-485 million years ago). During this time, Northeast Georgia was under a shallow sea known as the Iapetus Ocean. This ancient sea was located deep in the Southern Hemisphere. Animals living in these waters included sponges, brachiopods, hyoliths, and the famous trilobites.

Figure 2. Aphelaspis brachyphasis trilobite that Jess found.

The most abundant fossils in this portion of the Conasauga Formation are the shed exoskeletons of trilobites. Trilobites are arthropods that were very common animals during the Paleozoic Era (~550-250 million years ago). The trilobites found in Murray County, Georgia died from rapid mudflows that came from a deep marine basin and anoxic (lacked oxygen) environment. Because of this, the trilobite fossils from this site are preserved very well and occur in body clusters with halos of iron oxide surrounding their bodies.

We began to plunge down a hill under a bridge where the outcrops are exposed to the surface. The exposures lie right near the Conasauga River (where the rock unit received its name). It didn’t take long to split the mudstone and come across the remnants of ancient Georgia’s inhabitants. The most common species of trilobite found in the outcroppings is Aphelaspis brachyphasis. They are so common that this locality has been referred to as the Aphelaspis Biozone. There are other species that were found such as agnostids like Glyptagnostus reticulatus which serves as an index fossil for the middle Cambrian and Agnostus inexpectans.

Figure 3. The best specimen of A. brachyphasis that I found!
Figure 4. The Index Fossil for the Middle Cambrian Period Glyptagnostus reticulatus

Agnostids are very small and only occur in rocks from the Cambrian and Ordovician period. Paleontologists have debated whether agnostids are even part of the class Trilobita at all. Agnostids had a head and a tail body parts with two or three thoracic segments. They also have have no eyes which suggest they lived in deeper waters where light did not penetrate the ocean. A lot of the trilobites that we found were disarticulated but some specimens recovered were complete molts. We all came back with well-preserved and numerous specimens.

Scouring the Mississippian of Alabama

Cam here-

I spend my time working on lectures, reading books, or annotating scientific papers. But, every once in a while, I get to collect fossils and do field work. I haven’t been out in the field since June of 2017. On January 13th and 14th of this year, I spent the weekend collecting fossils from Franklin County and Huntsville, Alabama. These areas around the state consists of limestones that date back during Mississippian period (Lower Carboniferous) ~355-325 million years old. These limestones formed in deep waters where at the time the geography of North Alabama was very different.

Stratigraphic chart in the area we were collecting in.

In these ancient shallows seas was a large diversity of sea life consisting of brachiopods, rugose corals, crinoids, blastoids, bryozoans, trilobites, and even a few early sharks. Now, their remains makeup the Lower Bangor Limestone Formation and the Lower/Upper Monteagle Limestone Formation of North Alabama. On January 13th the crew headed out to collect fossils from the Lower Bangor Limestone Formation. On our way the site, fossil collector Asa and I decided pull over at a local rock outcrop to save time. The outcrop is part of the Hartselle Formation which consists of fossiliferous and oolithic sandstones. Stratigraphically, the Hartselle Formation is right underneath the Bangor Limestone Formation. So, in other words, we were getting close to our main collecting site.

Debbie and Asa looking for fossils in the Lower Bangor Limestone Formation.

As we pulled up to the lakeshore, we began to pack up our tools and scout around to look for fossils. Limestones slabs were waiting for us to examine and chip away with our rock hammers. At the first site we found many fossils including a few crinoid calyces, trilobite fragments, Archimedes bryozoans, trace fossils, and one small shark tooth. Asa found a beautifully preserved echinoid and edrioasteroid. After the crew was done collecting at site one, we packed up and began to travel to site two of the Lower Bangor Limestone Formation. We pulled up to to the lakeshore once again. This time the men and women split up to look for fossils. Nathan, Asa, and Dylan scouted around to look for fossils.

Asa and I inspecting the Lower Monteagle Limestone Formation Site 1

It wasn’t until about 5 minutes later that I noticed that the the loose sediment on the ground contained a plethora of fossils that the lake water sifted back and forth over time. I spent a lot of my time lying on the ground picking up crinoid stems, ossicles, blastoid thecae (bodies), brachiopods, and even a few echinoid (sea urchin) fragments. After day one was over for fossil hunting, we began to day 2 of fossil collecting. On January 14th, Asa, Jess, and I went to fossil collect in the Upper/Lower portions of the Monteagle Limestone Formation. At location one we stopped by a small outcropping of limestone. We began looking up and down to look for fossils.

Upper Monteagle Limestone Formation Site 2

I found a good number of blastoids and great pieces of crinoidal limestone. After we collected material from site one, we began to travel to site two. Site two was much better for finding fossils. Asa and I began to inspect the very top of the rock outcrops. Fossiliferous sediment was then collected to sift through and use for educational purposes. I began to look for fossils from the bottom of the outcrop and collected crinoid stems and a large amounts of Pentremites, a common blastoid from the Mississippian. Just as we began to leave, Asa found a tooth from a Carboniferous aged cartilaginous fish called Chomatodus. The trip was a very successful one. We all spent the weekend and collecting fossils and enjoying each other’s company.

 

The echinoid Archaeocidaris hemispinifera that was found by Asa.
Four Asteriacites (star fish resting traces fossils) found by Jess.
Petaldus tooth. Found by Jess.
Blastoid (Pentremites sp.) that I found
Chomatodus sp. tooth