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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Logo The Department of Paleobiology - The Life of a Vertebrate Fossil
Level 1 - Introduction
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A giant extinct ground sloth looms over you in the Ice Ages Hall. A delicate fossil of Smilodectes peers at you from a tree branch in the Tertiary Mammals Hall. These fossil skeletons of extinct mammals are at the end of a long journey from discovery to display; a journey that might begin thousands of miles from the museum and that can take many years to complete.

Giant ground Sloth from the Pliestocene (1.81 - 0.01 million years ago) of Panama.

In this multimedia adventure, you will follow what paleontologists do in each stage in the life of a vertebrate fossil. You will learn about:

  • Deciding whether they are worth collecting.
  • Getting permission to collect.
  • Digging them up and getting them back to the laboratory.
  • Preparing fossils for research and exhibition.
  • Understanding what they say about past life.

Flash Version


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