FOSSIL Project Updates & Plans for 2016

By Bruce J. MacFadden and Eleanor E. Gardner

Recent activities

The FOSSIL Project collaborated with the Dallas Paleontological Society (DPS) and held a successful two-day mini conference October 12 -13, 2015 prior to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) meeting. The mini conference included: a tour of the paleontology collections at Southern Methodist University; informative talks; a town-hall style forum with presentations by Dr. Scott Foss (Bureau of Land Management Senior Paleontologist), Linda McCall (North Carolina Fossil Club President), and Cynthia Crane (Aurora Fossil Museum Director); a well-attended and inspiring keynote talk on bird origins by Dr. Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago; and a day-long field trip to fossil localities in the greater Dallas area. We thank Rocky Manning, Lee Higginbotham, and the other members of the host/planning committee for an excellent time. After the mini conference, many of us then attended the SVP meeting in downtown Dallas, which included more than 1,000 professional and amateur paleontologists as well as students from the U.S. and around the world.

Jacksboro Field Site (DPS trip)
Jacksboro Field Site (DPS trip)

Mineral Wells (DPS Trip)
Mineral Wells (DPS Trip)

Immediately after the Dallas mini conference, Lisa Lundgren, a PhD student in Science Education at the University of Florida and the FOSSIL Project’s social media manager, presented research at the e-Learn international conference in Kona, Hawaii. The annual e-Learn conference features research from the fields of government, health care, and higher education. Lisa presented two papers on FOSSIL Project-related research (see Products section below). The first paper was an explanation of how we created the myFOSSIL community website. The second paper was an exploration of a newly developed framework for understanding peoples’ “mental models” of social media. Lisa reported that the conference was a great opportunity to see new research presentations and make connections with researchers from around the world

In early November, the FOSSIL Project hosted an exhibit booth at the annual Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Baltimore, which was attended by more than 5,000 geologists, paleontologists, students, and educators. Our booth showcased the new myFOSSIL community website and our partnerships with local fossil clubs – in this case, the Calvert Marine Museum Fossil Club. Thanks go out to Dr. Stephen Godfrey (museum curator) and, in particular, Mike Ellwood (club president) for engaging visitors with fossils from the famous Calvert Cliffs locality. It was great to interact with so many interesting professionals, students, and amateurs at our booth – and we hope they all will become members of the myFOSSIL community!

Ronny Leder & Mike Ellwood at our GSA booth
Ronny Leder & Mike Ellwood at our GSA booth

During the meeting’s technical sessions of presentations, Bruce MacFadden and Lisa Lundgren spoke, respectively, about the FOSSIL Project’s role in fossil data digitization and using social media as a tool to measure FOSSIL community engagement. Victor Perez also gave a talk related to his paleontological research on sharks from Panama, and Ronny Leder presented a poster on the interaction between the FOSSIL Project and the iDigBio Project. Other individuals affiliated with the FOSSIL Project, including Dr. Benjamin Dattilo (professional paleontologist and Dry Dredgers member) and Linda McCall (president of the North Carolina Fossil Club) gave talks at the meeting as well.

Later in November, Bruce MacFadden visited the vertebrate paleontology collections at the U.S. National Museum, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He had the opportunity to talk with David Bohaska and study the rare fossil mammals from the early Miocene Belgrade Quarry in eastern North Carolina. These land mammals fill a gap in our knowledge from a very interesting region between what is known of fossils from similar age in Delaware and the well-known Thomas Farm quarry in Florida.

Fossil land mammals from Belgrade, NC, in the Smithsonian Collections. These include rodents (upper left, center left), giant pig-like species (upper right), tiny horse (right, center), small deer-like species (lower left), and tiny carnivore (lower right)
Fossil land mammals from Belgrade, NC, in the Smithsonian Collections. These include rodents (upper left, center left), giant pig-like species (upper right), tiny horse (right, center), small deer-like species (lower left), and tiny carnivore (lower right)

For more discussion, or to contribute to the myFOSSIL forum on Belgrade fossils, see:

Also in November, Eleanor Gardner presented a talk entitled “Preservation Bias in the Avian Fossil Record: A Taphonomic Viewpoint” at the Fossil Club of Lee County in Fort Myers, FL. The talk was very well attended and lots of great questions were asked by club members. Eleanor and Lisa Lundgren hosted a fossil activity table at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s “She’s A Scientist” Girl Scout exploration event; scouts completed three requirements toward earning an earth-science-related badge. Additionally in November, the FOSSIL Project helped sponsor a talk by Dr. Sandra Carlson (University of California-Davis) at the monthly meeting of the Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology in Ann Arbor, MI. Back in October, Victor Perez gave a research talk at the Florida Fossil Hunters’ monthly meeting in Orlando; while Ronny Leder traveled to Rochester, NY, to meet with the Rochester Academy of Science Fossil Section group. If you’d like a FOSSIL team member or other speaker to visit your club or society, please contact the FOSSIL Project Coordinator, Eleanor Gardner, at [email protected].

myFOSSIL launch

After more than a year and a half of development and testing, we launched the myFOSSIL website during the Dallas mini conference in October. The website is intended to be the go-to place for social paleontology and offers many opportunities to connect to friends, upload fossil images and associated data, explore and add to a calendar of events, participate in discussion forums (including the “What Is It?” fossil ID forum), and access resources. Since the launch, we have steadily increased the number of users; we now have over 120 members, which represents more than a doubling since the launch. We are excited that, in addition to members of fossil clubs and professional paleontologists, we have started to see others visit the myFOSSIL community and participate, including students, independent amateurs (i.e., not affiliated with a society or club), and K-12 teachers.

To sign up, please complete the registration form and survey at Submit your registration materials and you will receive your log-in information within 24 hours. You are then ready to start using the site!


myFOSSIL landing page
myFOSSIL landing page

We also thank the many participants who provided feedback during the testing phase that helped us streamline and optimize the usability of myFOSSIL. If you want to understand the pulse of the amateur and professional interactions on a national level, we hope that you will join in the discussions and activities promoted on myFOSSIL. We are excited about the success of myFOSSIL so far and look forward with optimism to seeing its growth and ability to serve interested audiences. As the FOSSIL Project continues to mature, we envision an increasing emphasis on the myFOSSIL web site to sustain the community of social paleontologists that we have built together.

Upcoming FOSSIL-related activities planned for 2016

February 19 – 21, Gainesville, FL

The FOSSIL Project is happy to announce its first PaleoBlitz! A PaleoBlitz, similar to a BioBlitz, is an intense period of paleontological survey conducted by citizen scientists. This pilot PaleoBlitz is intended to engage amateur paleontologists in the entire fossil collection process – from first finding a fossil, to field documentation, to museum curatorial work. The organizers, FOSSIL Project postdoc Dr. Ronny Leder and UF PhD student Victor Perez, hope that this event will be beneficial to the amateur paleontological community by promoting best practices in fossil collection and curation.

The PaleoBlitz is tentatively planned for February 19-21, 2016. Currently, we are in the announcement and recruitment phase. Fossil clubs/societies should nominate up to three participants. Each nominee will be asked to complete a survey on their background in paleontology and experience with professional collections. Preference will be given to nominees who have not previously participated in a FOSSIL-sponsored event. Twelve participants will be chosen for this pilot program.

During the PaleoBlitz weekend, participants will start by collecting fossils, such as shark teeth, in Gainesville-area creeks. Then, the Blitz will move to the FLMNH laboratories where participants will learn how to prepare and document the fossils they found. We hope that we can use the results from this pilot program, coupled with participant feedback, to improve and implement other such events in the future.

For more information or to submit nominations, please contact the FOSSIL Project Coordinator, Eleanor Gardner, at [email protected].

Paleoblitz flyer
Paleoblitz flyer

March 12, Watsonville, California

Along with the Santa Cruz County Museum of Natural History and Seacliff State Park, Bruce MacFadden of the FOSSIL Project will host a display table of local fossils at the annual Santa Cruz County Science & Engineering Fair on Saturday, March 12, 2016. This will be an opportunity to promote the science of paleontology to approximately one thousand visitors who will be attending this event.

Bruce is looking for 2-3 local California fossil club volunteers to aid with this event. If you are interested in helping staff the display table and talk to children and families about fossils, please contact Bruce MacFadden on the myFOSSIL website at @bmacfadden or email him at [email protected].

March 31 to April 1, Columbia, South Carolina

There will be a special theme session at the 2016 Southeastern Geological Society of America regional meeting taking place March 31 – April 1 in Columbia, SC. The theme session is entitled “Synergistic Paleontology: The FOSSIL Project and Amateur Contributions to the Field.” The session’s co-chairs include Linda McCall of the North Carolina Fossil Club, Chuck Ferrara of the Southwest Florida Fossil Society, as well as Bruce, Eleanor, and Lisa of the FOSSIL Project. For this session, we have invited both amateurs and professionals to give oral or poster presentations on their research and/or outreach endeavors. Other theme sessions at this meeting which may be of interest are: “Fossil Vertebrates of the Southeastern United States” and “Evolution Teaching Practices and Data-Rich Research.” For more information about the meeting, please contact the FOSSIL Project Coordinator, Eleanor Gardner, at [email protected].

June 3 to 5, Cincinnati, Ohio

The FOSSIL Project is partnering with the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers, the oldest continuously-operating fossil club in North America, to host a mini conference in Cincinnati, OH, during the weekend of June 3-5, 2016. This mini conference will include two days of local field trips, a keynote talk by Dr. Tony Martin of Emory University, presentations by both professionals and amateurs, a poster session, and social events. Your input for this mini conference is welcomed; please e-mail [email protected] with ideas.

Online webinars, dates/times to be determined

We are planning at least two online, real-time webinars for the myFOSSIL community during 2016. Topics for the webinars will include: general field note taking (led by Bruce MacFadden) and fossil photography 101 (led by Ronny Leder). More webinars are being planned. We will send out announcements as soon as dates are finalized.

For more information on these and other activities, please check the  myFOSSIL Events calendar.


The FOSSIL team recently published two articles in the peer-reviewed literature on using social media in informal education (see full citations below). For a complete list of presentations and publications by the entire FOSSIL community – both by team members and affiliated amateurs – please explore the list on our website:

Crippen, K., Dunckel, B., MacFadden, B., Ellis, S. & Lundgren, L. (2015). A Framework for Social Paleontology via an Online Community Space. In Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2015 (pp. 305-311). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Lundgren, L. & Crippen, K. (2015). Designing for Social Paleontology: An Exploratory Study of Citizen Mental Models. In Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2015 (pp. 849-858). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).