Museum of Geology unveils a special exhibit for National Fossil Day

The Early evening news on KOTA Territory TV
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 8:30 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - The Museum of Geology at South Dakota Mines celebrated National Fossil Day on Wednesday with the unveiling of a temporary special exhibit.

The 13th annual National Fossil Day was celebrated at South Dakota Mines with paleontologists from across the Black Hills gathering to show the importance of the field.

“We would not be able to interpret that history without these fossils,” said Museum of Geology fossil curator Darrin Pagnac “They can tell us what animals were living here, they can tell us about the climate, the precipitation, how organisms interacted with their environment, how that’s changed over time.”

What exactly is paleontology?

“Paleontology is dealing with anything that was alive in the past,” said Mammoth Site director of research Jim Mead “It could have been alive yesterday and that would be the recent past, it could’ve been alive a couple of billion years ago.”

Along with learning about the different organisms that lived in the hills, many paleontologists and park rangers who attended wanted to spread awareness of what could happen if these fossils were misused.

“So, fossils are neat and they draw a lot of interest, and unfortunately a lot of people treat fossils as a novelty more than a learning resource,” said Badlands National Park ranger Ed Welsch.

The special exhibit unveiled at the school of mines is a cautionary tale on how not to manage paleontological resources.

Fossil Cycad National Monument was located in north-central Fall River County, southwestern...
Fossil Cycad National Monument was located in north-central Fall River County, southwestern South Dakota, about 11 miles west-southwest of the town of Hot Springs(Humberto Giles-Sanchez)

“The exhibit’s about a national park service unit called fossil cycad national monument and this was a unit was first commissioned a hundred years ago, and it was down between Hot Springs and Edgemont,” said Pagnac.

However, because of decades of looting the site lost all fossilized cycads on the monument’s surface.

The fossil plants preserved at the site are actually cycadeoids
The fossil plants preserved at the site are actually cycadeoids(Humberto Giles-Sanchez)

“The resource was basically depleted and sometime in the early 50s the park was decommissioned because the resource that it was erected for wasn’t there anymore,” said Pagnac “This is part of your history and so the fossil cycad national monument is an example of part of our history that could have been potentially lost.”

At the exhibit, paleontologists encouraged 3 steps if people find a fossil:

  1. Do not remove any fossil from its original location
  2. Take photos of fossils (with something for scale), location, and surrounding area
  3. Report the information to Park Rangers at whatever park you might be exploring