Monday, June 02, 2014

Fossil Hunting in Massachusetts

Two hundred million years ago, during the Jurassic period, mudflats in the Connecticut River Valley recorded the wanderings of large and small, carnivorous and herbivourous dinosaurs. The tracks of these dinosaurs have been found by amateur, commercial and academic paleontologists. Peter Gleba, member of the Boston Mineral Club, compiled "Massachusetts Mineral and Fossil Localities" in 1978, and published it on the web in 2008 for "amateur rockhounds and professional geologists." It has sections pinpointing the locations of fossils in all the counties in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts General Law  c. 2 § 17 establishes the dinosaur track as the fossil or fossil emblem of the commonwealth.

Fossil collecting is regulated by federal and state law and policy. Federal: In 2001, Congressman James McGovern, representing the 3rd District of Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the prime sponsor of the Paleonotological Resources Preservation Act. His bill finally became law as part of P.L. 111—011, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, sec. 6301 et seq. This law regulates the collection of paleontological resources on public land. State: Collecting on private land must be done only with the landowner’s consent. State law criminalizing trespass, Massachusetts General Law c. 266 § 120, establishes the legal basis for the need to speak with the landowner before venturing on his or her land. Policy: A variety of codes of ethics attempt to define how people should search for fossils. One example is the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s Ethics Statement.

Massachusetts is home to several great museums where you can learn more about dinosaurs and their tracks. The Harvard Museum of Natural History has a permanent exhibition which includes fossil invertebrates, reptiles and dinosaurs. The Beneski Musuem of Natural History at Amherst College is the home of the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection (ichnology is the study of tracks and traces), the  largest fossil track collection in the world and one of the most studied.

The image below is a Pterodaustro guinazui from a current exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York called “Pterosaurs : Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs.”