Paleobotany Exercise: 200,000 Years of Pollen and Environmental Change

Christopher L. Hill
Boise State University
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Students interpret a pollen data set that extends back to 220,000 years ago. They gain experience in observing morphological differences in pollen taxa, collection and orginization of data, data analysis, and writing. This is a "virtual lab" where the fossil pollen samples that are studied are provided as Powerpoint slides.

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This was designed for a senior-level undergraduate course in Quaternary paleontology. The class is a requirement for geoarchaeology majors and an elective that counts towards the degree requirements for anthropology majors and environmental studies majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Student's must have a basic familiarity with the application of pollen studies in paleontology. This is provided with in-class lectures and required readings.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity can be used as both a stand-alone exercise or as part of a sequence of exercises.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Although this is an exercise in pollen identification and counting, the primary goal is for the student to gain an understanding of how proxy indicators are used to evaluate patterns of environmental change.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Skills include fossil identification, analysis of data, comparison of patterns with other data sets.

Other skills goals for this activity

A short written report is part of the requirement of this activity.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are provided with background information on palynology through in-class overviews and required readings. The assignment instructions, pollen key, and pollen slides to be counted are provided online through the course Blackboard site. Activities include: identification and counting of a series of pollen slides, organization and graphic presentation of collected data, comparison with global environmental data. Students must provide a summary that includes their interpretations and conclusions. The activity provides an example of how fossils can be used to recognize patterns of environmental change.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students must complete all parts of the assignment.

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