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Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) Takes Part in National Fossil Day

The Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville is taking part in the first National Fossil Day on Wednesday, October 13, during Earth Science Week. National Fossil Day, organized by the National Park Service and the American Geological Institute, promotes awareness and stewardship of fossils-the record of evolving life on a dynamic planet-and fosters greater appreciation of their value to scientists and educators.

In celebration of National Fossil Day, VMNH scientists will have several large limestone slabs on display near the museum’s front entrance. Three days prior to the event, VMNH scientists, in partnership with staff and students from Radford University, will travel to central Kentucky to bring back these specimens in preparation for a future special exhibit titled “Tropical Virginia: Life in the Ordovician”, to be open at VMNH from February to August, 2012.

During the event, visitors will have the opportunity to help with cleaning these limestone slabs to prepare them for the upcoming exhibit. Visitors will be able to learn more about these touchable specimens by visiting with VMNH scientists and taking part in preparing the fossils for future exhibition.

“One of the exciting things about this event is that visitors will be able to help us clean the actual specimens that are being placed in the exhibit,” said Dr. Alton Dooley, associate curator of paleontology at VMNH. “Usually fossils are so fragile that this work has to be done by trained personnel in the laboratory, so this is a unique opportunity for the public to be directly involved in the preparation of this exhibit.”

Visitors will also have the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Storage Room beginning at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tours are limited to 20 visitors in each group.

The limestone slabs are approximately 460 million years old and contain hundreds of fossils of corals, brachiopods, trilobites, and bryozoans, as well as other animals.

“These Ordovician rocks are some of the richest fossil deposits in the world,” Dooley said. “They help us understand a part of Virginia’s past that is very different from what we see today.”

For more information about the Virginia Museum of Natural History, visit To learn more about Vertebrate Paleontology research and collections at VMNH, visit the VMNH Vertebrate Paleontology blog at

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