NPS Paleontology Program
The principal mission of the National Park Service is the preservation, protection, and stewardship of natural and historic resources “in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Fossils and the natural geologic processes which form, preserve, and expose them are included in this mission.
National Fossil Day™—October 17, 2012 is a celebration organized by the National Park Service and the American Geological Institute to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils! Learn more
Paleontological resources, or fossils, are any remains of past life preserved in geologic context. There are two main types of fossils: body fossils and trace fossils. Body fossils are parts of an actual organism (shells, bones, teeth, plant leaves, etc.) while trace fossils (burrows, coprolites, footprints, trackways, etc.) preserve evidence of an organism’s activity or behavior. Fossils are non-renewable natural resources that possess great scientific, educational, and interpretive value.
More than 230 National Park Service areas are known to contain fossils either in the rocks of the park, in the park's museum collections, or in cultural contexts (such as petrified wood projectile points). Only 14 of these parks were established specifically to preserve fossils. Fossils from parks collectively span every period of geologic history from stromatolites one billion years old at Glacier National Park to Ice Age fossils in various Alaskan parks thousands of years old. Many are truly unique, rare, type, or nationally and even globally significant specimens and assemblages.
The NPS Paleontology Program serves to integrate the scientific principles of paleontology with the stewardship and interpretation mission of the National Park Service. The Paleontology Program’s core function is to provide parks the guidance and tools necessary to understand and manage their paleontological resources. The program also coordinates response to assistance requests as a liaison between parks, the Geologic Resources Division, and outside institutions.