Ever wonder what it’s like to be a paleontologist? Experience it for yourself this summer on an adventure-filled, weeklong Paleontology Field Study in the Bighorn Basin of Montana and Wyoming. This joint project between the Academy of Natural Sciences and Elevation Science Institute promises to be an amazing experience for all naturalists and nature lovers.
To learn more, we reached out to Elevation Science’s Founding Executive Director, Jason Schein.
What is Elevation Science?
Elevation Science Institute for Natural History Exploration is a nonprofit organization dedicated to paleontology and natural history research, education and outreach. We opened our doors in 2017 and it’s been an incredible experience. We seek to collaboratively study, preserve and interpret the paleontological treasures of the American West and wherever the adventure leads, and to promote paleontology and the natural sciences to lifelong learners around the world. We’re still a small and young organization, but I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and we have big plans for the future.
What makes this area so interesting for fossil hunting?
Bighorn Basin is just one of the few places on Earth where, through a series of fortuitous geological events, we have access to hundreds of millions of years of rocks and ancient environments.
So, sedimentary rocks are like pages and chapters of a book, recording ancient environmental conditions that existed while they were being formed. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, they also preserve the organisms that existed in those ecosystems in the form of fossils. But since those layers are stacked on top of each other, usually only the topmost recent layer is accessible to us.
Bighorn Basin, though, is different. The area is surrounded by five different mountain ranges that all started pushing up around 70 million years ago. As they did, they flexed the area between them downwards into a great bowl. The combination of pushing down the middle of that area and pulling up those layers at the edges — and tens of millions of years of erosion — results in us being able to find rocks and fossils from almost all of the last 500 million years, exposed at the surface, in multiple places throughout the Basin.
Tell us more about the Paleontology Field Study!
Participants will experience so much, starting from the moment they arrive in Montana. They’ll learn all about paleo fieldwork, from first finding fossils to getting them safely out of the ground. And they won’t just be shown how to do it — they’ll actually be doing it. In the evenings, we’ll be learning a lot about regional geology, dinosaur anatomy, the latest dinosaur research and much more. Participants can have snowball fights in August when we take a sunset drive up on the 11,000′ high Beartooth Pass. There may even be time for bird watching!
The trip is led by experienced paleontologists and educators, all of whom have their own specialties and areas of expertise. Our staff includes award-winning educators, paleo-artists, science communicators and our Fossil Prep Lab Manager, who runs the Fossil Prep Lab back at the Academy’s Dinosaur Hall.
This trip is for just about anyone who has an interest in paleontology and a sense of adventure. We commonly host young and teenage future paleontologists with a parent, retirees in their 80s checking this off their bucket list, and everything in between. We have so many folks who sign up expecting this to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, only to make lifelong friends and come back together, year after year.
Join us this summer as we explore natural history and nature’s wonders at Bighorn Basin!