Interpreting Fossil Assemblages
This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection
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This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.
This page first made public: Jun 4, 2009
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- Activity Description/Assignment: Interpretation of Fossil Assemblages (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 115kB Aug2 09)
- Instructor information for Interpreting Fossil Assemblages: I really want them to be able to recognize the limitations of the fossil record as well as the richness of information available from fossils. To this end I try to highlight the variability in the fossil record. You can choose any type of sample you like, but I like to use a range (some well preserved, some poorly preserved, some high diversity, some low diversity, some high energy, some low energy, some straightforward, some more tricky). Although I have abundant Ordovician and Devonian samples, I would ideally like to use samples from a range of time intervals. Students at the end of a paleontology course should be able to estimate the relative age of a fossiliferous sample, and then support it in the literature.
I provided 6 samples and had them complete descriptions for any 5 they liked because there were only 5 students the last time I ran this exercise. You can provide more to accommodate more students or to make it more comprehensive, but I found a lot of time is spent pouring over the treatise to identify the taxa, so you might want to make this a more than one lab period exercise. They end up spending a lot of time outside of lab (which I think is fine for a final lab assignment), but know that they need access to samples.
For the final assessment where they are called upon to defend their interpretation against my questions such as:
- How did you decide what species-what characters?
- How do you know it is shallow, deep, etc. ?
- What does your diversity data tell you?
- How would you change your interpretations if the surrounding lithology were different?