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UT GEO 302D - GEO 302D Lab9 DinoPit

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Geo 302D: Age of Dinosaurs LAB 9: Dino Pit Now that you are able to identify dinosaurs in both lab and lecture, let’s go dig some up. The major goals of this lab are to simulate the field work that paleontologists participate in and to use fossils to answer questions that paleontologists often confront. The Dino Pit exhibit in the Austin Science and Nature Center is an excellent facility for you to achieve these goals. At the Dino Pit, you will “discover” and uncover fossils, identify the taxa that you have found, make a brief interpretation of the environment in which each taxon lived, place the fossils in proper temporal (stratigraphic) order, and answer some general questions about a few of the fossils. Information on how to complete these tasks is given below. Make sure to read through the entire lab before you begin to maximize your time at the Dino Pit. You have a lot of work ahead of you! Below are driving directions to the Austin Science and Nature Center, as well as Capital Metro Bus Routes 29 and 470 (Note: 470 only runs on Saturday). These buses will drop off at Zilker Park, so you will have to walk to the Dino Pit from the bus stop. Directions to the Austin Nature and Science Center (see map of Zilker Park below): From MOPAC (Loop 1), take the 2244/Rollingwood exit and go east on Barton Springs Road. Take a left on Stratford Drive (immediately east of the Zilker Botanical Gardens). Follow Stratford to the parking area under the MOPAC bridge, just by the Hike and Bike Trail. Our entrance is just across the road from the parking lot. From IH-35, head west on Riverside Drive. Turn left at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road. Continue on Barton Springs Road about 1.5 miles past Lamar Blvd, then turn right on Stratford Drive (immediately east of the Zilker Botanical Gardens). Follow Stratford to the parking area under the MOPAC bridge, just by the Hike and Bike Trail. Our entrance is just across the road from the parking lot.Other information: • Be on time. Check in with one of the Age of Dinos TAs in the amphitheater to the left of the Dino Pit entrance (see Dino Pit map). • Bring money. Please bring a small donation to place in the donation box on the left when you enter the Science and Nature Center. You are welcome to donate as much as you wish. • Dress appropriately. The Dino Pit is an outdoor exhibit, so you may get very hot or very wet. The fossil pits are well drained, and the lab will proceed at the designated times even if it is raining. • Optional items. If you like, you can bring a small plastic shovel and whisk broom to help you work. Some tools are available at the Dino Pit, but access to them may be limited depending on the number of people at the exhibit at any particular time. • For more information about the Dino Pit, visit their website at http://www.tmm.utexas.edu:8007/ Dino Pit Rules: Before you can enter the Dino Pit to complete the lab, there are several of rules that you must follow: 1) No metal digging tools. These will damage the fossil casts. 2) No climbing on the surrounding hillsides and cliffs. 3) No digging in the surrounding hillsides and cliffs. 4) Leave no trash behind. Let’s keep the exhibit clean for everybody else. 5) Play nice. There are bound to be hoards of little children around, so be mindful of what you do and what you say. 6) No food or drink allowed in the Dino Pit exhibit. 7) Once you have discovered and studied a fossil, cover it back up again. This will not only allow your classmates and the public to experience the joy of finding the fossil themselves, but it will help to protect the fossils from the elements. FIELD WORK Paleontology does not advance without active field work by paleontologists. Although field work is often focused on collecting specimens that represent new taxa, or taxa which are not completely known, vertebrate paleontologists also go into the field to survey the diversity and spatial distribution of fossils, as well as their stratigraphic distribution. Other goals of field work can include collecting information towards an interpretation of the rock, and therefore the original depositional environment, in which a fossil was found, or taking samples for radiometric dating. Vertebrate paleontological fieldwork is grueling. Paleontologists must deal with permitting issues on federal land, or with the vicissitudes of private landowners. They must lead, guide, and often train a group of field assistants, negotiate with colleagues regarding the best plan of action, mediate quarrels among their herd, enforce the requirements of landowners or federal agencies, cope with time constraints, supply shortages, medical emergencies, and physical exhaustion... all in scorching heat milesfrom the nearest air conditioning, home-cooked meal, shower, hospital, or bed. Months of such work may return only a few badly weathered pieces of bone, but the paleontologist’s troubles have just started. Often there is time pressure, including deadlines for returning the hard-won specimens to the country or repository to which they rightly belong. In many cases, specimens recovered are fragmentary, or are so different from anything previously found that it isn’t possible to identify them with certainty. Although we cannot expose you to the full experience of field work, we can simulate some of the conditions under which paleontologists regularly work, using Austin’s own Dino Pit. The Dino Pit is an outdoor educational exhibit at the Austin Science and Nature Center. Concrete casts of vertebrate fossils from Texas have been buried in large sand-filled pits, allowing visitors to experience the thrill of discovering and uncovering a fossil for themselves. Although this attraction is primarily intended for children, the casts are well made and a lot of careful science went into producing the exhibit, in anticipation of its use for educational purposes in a substantially higher age bracket. STRATIGRAPHIC COLUMNS In class you have learned that fossils are crucial to our understanding of the history of life, because they constitute the physical evidence for that history. However, the rock in which we find fossils contains just as much evidence, and proper field techniques can mean the difference between collecting all of the information about a specimen and collecting no information at all. A fossil recovered without any


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