Caldera chronicles: The underappreciated fossil riches of Yellowstone

Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles is a weekly column written by scientists and collaborators of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This week’s contribution is from Michael Serio, graduate student, and Madison Myers, assistant professor of Igneous Processes, with the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University.

The thermal features and “charismatic megafauna” of Yellowstone National Park are more than enough to draw crowds from all over the world, with the park seeing more than 4 million visitors in 2021. But Yellowstone has a secret that very few visitors are even aware of: Yellowstone has fossils. Enough to rival other national parks that are renowned for their fossil riches, like Petrified Forest and Dinosaur National Monument. In Yellowstone, there are fossils that tell the story of volcanic eruptions that buried entire forests, that detail a slow change in Yellowstone’s climate, and that are the basis for entire evolutionary theories.

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Indigenous people undoubtedly knew about Yellowstone’s fossils, and their knowledge was used by early explorers and fossil hunters to locate sites. As a result, from the beginning of its exploration by Euro-Americans, Yellowstone has been a noted spot for fossils. Mountain man Jim

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