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How often do you think about the ground under your feet? About what it is composed of or how old the rocks are? Did you know that under your feet, there are not just rocks and soils, but fossils? Let’s explore these amazing snapshots in time!
What are fossils?
A fossil is the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. There are two kinds of fossils. Body fossils are the remains of things that were once alive. Trace fossils tell us about how something lives. So, a dinosaur bone would be a body fossil, while a dinosaur footprint would be a trace fossil.
Guiding Question: Take a look at the picture above. Do you think that it’s of body fossil or a trace fossil? Why? What do you think this is a fossil of? (It’s a Macroneuropteris macrophylla, a type of seed fern.)
Most of Illinois’ exposed rock layers, and the fossils found in them, were formed during the Carboniferous, approximately 355 to 290 million years ago. We have over 22,000 fossils in our collection, most of which were collected from sites in the Midwest. Take a look at the fossil above. It was uncovered in the Mazon Creek fossil beds here in Illinois. What do you think it is? It’s a jellyfish!
Guiding Question: What do you notice about the fossil in the picture above? What do you know about jellyfish? Why do you think this fossil might look the way it does? Does it surprise you that this jellyfish was found in Illinois? Why or why not?
Make your own fossil!
The fossils in our collection date back to the time of the dinosaurs, but you don’t need that much time to make some fossils of your own! Use this salt dough recipe and then use plants, sticks, and other natural objects to make your own fossils! Be sure to share your creations with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
Guiding Question: What objects should we use to make our fossils? If we found these fossils in the wild, where would we find them? What can fossils tell us?
Behind the Scenes
Local artist Katherine Lampert was so inspired by a fossil in our collection that she created a series of works based on it! While you can’t explore it in-person right now, we have a digital exploration of the exhibit for you to watch here.