Paleontology and Fossils

Paleontology is the study of ancient life forms—ferns, fish, dinosaurs, rocks, climates, continents—mainly through examination of fossils. Fossils are the remains of any organism preserved in rock formed when mud, sand, silt, lime deposits or volcanic ash cover up an animal or plant before turning to stone. Fossils are a non-renewable resource that teaches us about our earth's history. Where fossils are found, how they're preserved, what type of rock they're in, and their relation to other rocks and fossils are also important clues to unveiling the mysteries of our earth. It's very important to our earth's history that everyone follow the rules and regulations of fossil and artifact collecting

Fossils in National Parks

The National Park Service is dedicated to the preservation of fossils. In order to preserve these fossils, National Park Rangers monitor weather conditions such as rain, wind, and temperature change in areas containing fossils. Currently there are eight fossil-centric national parks, and 232 national parks that have fossils. While paleontology is difficult in Alaska due to itís short summer period, thirteen of these National Parks with fossils are in Alaska: Kenai Fjords National Park, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Denali National Park and Preserve, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Noatak National Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Cape Krusenstern National Monument and Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve.

Yukon-Charley River National Preserve has animal fossils from the Precambrian Era. In 1976 scientists discovered one-celled organisms, jellyfish and flatworms in this area that are estimated to be 700 million years old.

Surveys of Katmai National Park and Preserve taken near Naknek Lake found flowering plants from the Cretaceous period that are estimated to be 50 million years old.

Fossils from the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era have been found in The Bering Land Bridge National Monument. These fossils are mainly from the last ice age that happened about 12,000 years ago. Fossils of mammoths, horses, bison, trees, beetles, various marine life, and a prehistoric beaver dam have all been found. Researchers have found pollen cores at Imuruk Lake that date back 100,000 years.

Aniakchak National Monument holds the Chignik Formation that includes dinosaur footprints and fossils of marine animals dating back 77-68 million years ago. The dinosaur footprints are the only evidence of dinosaurs in all of southwest Alaska.

Gates of the Arctic has invertebrate fossils—coral, brachiopods, and trilobites—dating back 400 million years ago during the Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era. Other fossils found include bison and mammoths (each about five million years old), shark teeth, and other marine fossils from the Triassic and Cretaceous periods.

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