Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Paleontologist Next Door - Discovering DC's 'Accidental Museum of Paleontology'

Continuing on the Dinosaurs in DC theme I give you DCFossils.org:

Unintentionally, the city’s builders have assembled a diverse and public display of fossils, providing windows into ancient environments spanning more than 500 million years

Together, these fossils form D.C.’s “Accidental Museum of Paleontology.”

To make the Accidental Museum accessible to the public requires only some identification and background.

The site then goes on to provide 14 "galleries," each of which is a public location in the city where you can find unexpected fossils. Also provided is in depth information as to what you're actually looking at. It's sort of geocaching meets paleontology, meets who-can-find-the-most-obscure-city-monuments. In other words, it's perfect for me.

I planned tonight's run so it would take me by Gallery 9 and Gallery 10. Both locations are found in high traffic areas in the city. Gallery 9 is at 2121 Pennsylvania Ave NW, while Gallery 10 is at 3333 M Street smack dab in Georgetown. I specifically brought along my cell phone macro lens, as I expected any fossils I'd find would be tiny. That is, if I found any at all.

To my absolute amazement, both sites yielded dozens of easily visible fossils. Here's a few snapshots I took:

Obviously, it's hard to tell scale from these photos, but most of the above specimens were half dollar size or lager. They were quite visible and I didn't need to bother with the macro lens.

I can only image what folks thought as they rushed by me intently inspected and photographing the apparently blank wall of a building. I half expected a security guard to come out and interrogate me, but in the end, nobody said a word. The Pennsylvania Ave location, Gallery 9 was more impressive than the M street spot, but both will do if you want to get your fossil fix. To think, most people will just whiz by these locations and never notice or consider the mysterious shapes embedded within. Such a shame, and such an opportunity for those willing to dig a little deeper.

OK, so I found some squiggly marks on the wall. What's the big deal? According to DCFossils, I was looking at the remains of Crinoids that lived, oh, about 160 million years ago. If I'm reading this chart correctly, that means that while these sea creatures were alive, so were the dinosaurs. That's mighty impressive in my book.

To help plan your visit to these sites, here's a Custom Google Map with sites marked on them. And just as importantly, keep your eyes peeled for other fossils, they're out there, just waiting to be (re)discovered.

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