Grand Canyon National Park – National Fossil Day Remarks 2019

Remarks on behalf of the PS—Bruce J. MacFadden, President

On September 28, 2019, President Bruce. J. MacFadden of the Paleontological Society was invited to give remarks on behalf of the Society at Grand Canyon National Park’s National Fossil Day – the 10th anniversary of this annual celebration of fossils on public lands.

The transcript of Dr. MacFadden’s remarks follow, edited to include affiliation.

Grand Canyon National Park, 28 September 2019

Thank you Jeanne [Calhoun, NPS] for that kind introduction. I am grateful for this opportunity to say a few words here, not just on this beautiful day, and in this unparalleled setting, but also on this momentous occasion as President of the Paleontological Society, I am honored to be here, and to welcome you on behalf of our Society. We are pleased not only to participate in the Centennial Celebration of the Grand Canyon, but also to recognize the 10th anniversary of National Fossil Day, the latter of which has built a wide following across our country of people from all walks of life—all of whom find paleontology interesting.

Like you, I find the Grand Canyon to be a special place. I have visited the Grand Canyon about a half-dozen times over the past five decades. Early this morning I took a walk along the Rim Trail. I never cease to be awestruck at the natural beauty and grandeur of this place, as well as the respect and reverence that I saw from the others visitors on the trail.

Founded in 1908, the Paleontological Society is an international professional organization whose mission is to advance the science of paleontology through the study of fossils. Our membership, numbering almost 1500, includes scientists and educators from diverse backgrounds, including universities, museums, governmental agencies, like the National Park Service, K-12 teachers, and amateur paleontologists.

Fossils are the preserved or petrified remains of animals and plants that lived a long time in the past, which scientists call “Deep Time.” As one descends along trails into the Grand Canyon, you walk back into Deep Time through an extensive sedimentary rock record that preserves hundreds of millions of years of ancient life. Indeed, this fascinating story is told through fossils and geological time. This story includes evidence for ancient marine oceans teaming with prehistoric sharks and other life-such as trilobites— no longer on this earth, to land animals and plants of fascinating varieties, and footprints of 250 million-year old reptiles preserved in the Coconino sandstone. In Ice Age caves developed in the Grand Canyon limestones, ground sloths inhabited these caves before they became extinct about 10,000 years ago. Although these species are no longer with us, the legacy of these prehistoric creatures lives on in their fossil remains.

Thanks to the National Park Service stewardship, these fossils are available for scientists to study and these resources have been used to make fundamental discoveries that have advanced the science of paleontology. These fossils are also evidence of evolution and geological change over an unimaginable time scale that enrich knowledge through education and outreach.

More than 250 national parks and monuments managed by the National Park Service throughout the United States contain fossil resources, which are preserved to advance science. In the 21st century, science is all about collaborative partnerships. In 2018 my Paleontology Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Park Service and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. The purpose of that official document is to promote science, stewardship, and opportunity for collaboration among these partners that support the science of paleontology in parks. I am therefore honored to have been invited to say a few words today. We look forward to developing additional ways in which we can work together for the mutual benefit of paleontological resources, outreach, and education.

In closing, the fossil record of the Grand Canyon, as well from other lands managed by the National Park Service, are truly part of our national identity and cultural heritage. The National Park Service preserves and protects these resources for us now, but also for future generations. They also make it safe for us to enjoy them and the natural beauty of this wonderful place, one that a colleague last night remarked is “one of the coolest places in the world!” I hope that you all enjoy the celebrations today and leave enriched and inspired about our great national parks and further impressed with the environmental and cultural stewardship provided by the National Park Service. Thank you.

Questions about National Fossil Day or  Grand Canyon National Park? You can learn more at the National Park Service website for the event!