Interpreting Fossil Assemblages

Diana Boyer
SUNY Oswego
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This assignment is a synthesis of many of the skills learned throughout the course from taxonomic identification to paleoecological interpretations.

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This is an upper level majors course with a sed/strat prerequisite

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This is the last lab assigned in the course so students should be able to identify fossils to the generic level using appropriate resources, determine age ranges, interpret lithology, taphonomic grade, and paleoecological implications of a community assemblage.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the culminating lab assignment.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal of this assignment is to give students the opportunity to synthesize many of the skills they have used independently in individual lab exercises and make interpretations of depositional settings and paleocommunities.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This requries detailed observation and synthesizing a number of different lines of data that they may not have seen together before. I am also fairly hands off on this assignment-available for questions, certainly-but I try and make it self guided. They have to approach a sample and figure out what to do with it.

Other skills goals for this activity

Identifying many of these organisms to the lowest taxonomic level possible requires the use of a range of different resources for which they must know how to work their way around.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are provided several fossiliferous samples to analyze in detail. I provide more than they need to snalyze so everyone in the class can be working. I give a range of specimens of different geologic ages, diversities, abundances, taxonomic compositions, depositional environments and taphonomic grades. The goal is for the students to identify all of the different fossil types to the lowest taxonomic level. I provide some that are well preserved and some that are highly fragmented making identification difficult. Next, students are tasked with assigning an age range of the sample by combining the age ranges of individual taxa, and make taphonomic descriptions and paleoecological analyses.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Their grade is largely based on how well they can recognize all of the data available from each individual specimen. They are also expected to recognize the variability between samples. Interpretations that are consistent with the data provided are considered appropriate.

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