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A Peek Into the Past

Paleontology Behind the Scences

February 7, 2013

Travel back in time and behind the scenes with fossils this February at the Academy! Our behind-the-scenes tours take a deeper look into the importance of fossils and how these historical artifacts can teach us about our lives today.

The Academy in the mid-19th century was the place to be for natural science. From all over the world, scientists, naturalists, and figures of social importance flocked to Philadelphia to trade and discuss the burgeoning world of fossils and other specimens. Fossilized bones were being discovered all over the United States, and scientists finally had the knowledge to identify these mysterious ancient creatures.

“Philadelphia, especially the Academy, was the hot spot of paleontology in the 1800s. Everyone was curious about these ancient bones that kept turning up,” explains Academy Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Dr. Ted Daeschler.

More than 200 years later, the Academy is still focused on the development of science, research, and education. Our fossil collection has grown to more than 22,000 specimens and continues to inspire visitors of all ages and interests. Now those very bones that once caused such a stir can be seen up close and personal this February.

Benjamin and Nathaniel Hahn (10 and 8) took the very first tour of the Vertebrate Paleontology Collection. Their favorite fossil specimens were Tiktaalik roseae, a fossil lobe-finned fish that shares many features seen only in early limbed animals, and Dryptosaurus, a carnivorous theropod dinosaur.

Benjamin, who wants to be a paleontologist or zoologist when he grows up, especially enjoyed learning about the Academy’s most treasured fossils.

“I’d recommend the tour to other kids our age,” he says. “They would like learning about the history.”

“We’ve seen fossils before, but we haven’t ever gotten that close or gone into research areas,” Nathaniel adds.

Our paleontologists and researchers welcome you to take an inside look at the remains of ice age mastodons and giant ground sloths, historically important fossils from the Thomas Jefferson Fossil Collection, and specimens from Hadrosarurus foulkii, the world’s first dinosaur skeleton, which are not normally on display in the museum.

Members Dan Drozd and Louise Mockaitis have taken a behind-the-scenes tour every month since the Academy began offering them in April 2012.

“We were fascinated with what’s hidden,” Drozd says. “The amount of items that are stored there is amazing, some of the history of how they got there is very interesting, and the people giving the tours are exceptionally good at explaining and answering questions.”

Discover the tale of fossils this February! The behind-the-scene tours will be held Thursdays through Mondays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“The history of life is the greatest story on Earth and these fossils help explore a deeper history,” Daeschler enthusiastically notes. “These tours are for anyone who is naturally curious about the world.”

~with reporting by M.A. Hartsock