Welcome to Fossil Stories!

Welcome to Fossil Stories, a week-long social media event (presented by the Biodiversity Heritage Library in collaboration with several of our partner institutions) celebrating fossils!

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Today, we recognize fossils as representing the preserved remains or traces of life from the ancient past. The scientific study of these fossils, how they formed, and their evolutionary relationship with each other and living species is known as paleontology.

Humans have been uncovering fossils for millennia, but we have not always understood what they were. Many of these fossils have inspired myths and legends over the centuries, including griffins, dragons, giants, and monsters.

Myths aside, the term “fossil” originally referred to anything that was dug up from the ground, including inorganic materials such as minerals. Even those specimens that were of organic origin were not widely understood as such, and it was not until the 16th century that books recognizing the similarity between some fossil objects and living creatures began to be published. And while some breakthroughs did occur during the Renaissance, it was not until the early 1800s that the reality of extinction was widely established or that the field of paleontology as we know it today was born.

And those dinosaurs that everyone loves? The first dinosaur genus was not described and validly named until the 19th century, and the term dinosaur (from the scientific clade “Dinosauria”) did not appear until 1842.

The study of fossils not only reveals Earth’s past, helping us delve into the origin of life itself, but it also informs research about our planet’s future through, for example, records of ancient climate change that can inform models regarding future change.

All week (October 13-16, 2015), we’ll be celebrating the world of fossils, the history of paleontology, and the men, women, and publications that shaped our knowledge about life preserved in stones with  social media content, including:

All content will be tagged with the event hashtag, #FossilStories, to make it easy for you to follow along and catch all of our great posts. You can find more information about the webcasts and the citizen science challenge below. We hope you’ll join us in our fossil-mania this week! We’re sure you’ll dig it!

The Fossil Stories webcasts will feature paleontologists, fossil research, and fossil exhibits at some of America’s most prestigious natural history institutions. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask these experts your fossil questions!

The webcast schedule is:

  • “Antarctic Dinosaurs with Dr. Peter J. Makovicky.” Presented by The Field Museum.
  • “Exploring The FossiLab with Advait Jukar.” Presented by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
  • “Behind the Scenes at the NHMLA Dino Lab.” Presented by the Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County

*For events on Periscope, follow the indicated account on Periscope (Periscope will then alert you when the webcast is live) OR follow @BioDivLibrary or the presenting institution on Twitter to get the link to the event. When the event is live, the link to access the webcast will be tweeted out on the host institution’s Twitter account and BHL’s Twitter account.

Citizen Science Challenge

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For Fossil Stories, we’ve teamed up with The Field Book Project, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and Smithsonian Institution Archives to issue you a #FossilFossick citizen science challenge! Last Friday, October 9, we released a set of paleontology field notes from the Smithsonian’s collection into the Transcription Center. We’re excited to announce that all 252 pages of field notes that we released for the challenge have been successfully transcribed and reviewed as of Oct. 12! Thanks to all of our great volunteers for their hard work and dedication! We’ll be sharing more information about the paleontologists featured in the challenge, and highlights from the challenge, all week, so be sure to follow #FossilStories to catch all this great information.

As a reward for successfully completing the challenge, we’ll be featuring a live webcast with Dr. Nicholas D. Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, on October 26 via the BHL Periscope account (@BioDivLibrary). He’ll show off some of his favorite specimens in the collection and you’ll have the opportunity to ask him your most pressing fossil questions, so be sure to tune in! More information to come later.

We hope to see you on social media this week! Let the #FossilStories begin!

Avatar for Grace Costantino
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Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.