Books, Science/Math

Nonfiction Friday: Dino Poop

Dino Poop and Other Remarkable Remains of the Ancient Past by Jane Hammerslough (Scholastic 2006) is one of my favorite books from the kids’ dino-obsessed days. First, the title is perfect for children: what child doesn’t love any excuse to say “poop?” Second, each book comes with a piece of real dino poop (technically known as a corprolite), which totally raises the cool factor. Third, the book is chock full of information, maps, quizzes, activities and more.

Hammerslough discusses how ancient remains help us learn about the past. Dino poop — some dating back 400 million years — provides clues about what dinosaurs ate and how they ate, as well as the environment in which they lived. Some paleontologists, called paleoscatologists, have devoted their life solely to the study of dino poop. Amber, which Hammerlogh calls “tree spit,” has preserved ancient insects, reptiles, plants and moe dating back 225 million years. She also discusses the roles of permafrost; peet bogs, which have preserved whole humans; and asphalt like the La Brea Tar Pits, which has preserved many ice age mammals.

In the back, she includes activities like making your own dino poop doorstop using pasta, making edible amber out of jello, and creating fossils using plaster. There’s lots of hands-on fun for sure.

Field Trip Ideas, Science/Math, Travel

What do paleontologists do all day?

At the La Brea Tar Pits

Imagine a dig that discovered an 80%-complete skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, the Ice Age giant. Now picture that dig taking place right in the middle of Los Angeles’s Hancock Park, home to the La Brea Tar Pits.

In 2006 workers excavating a new parking garage at the nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art discovered a Columbian mammoth skull. Work halted immediately and paleontologists from The Page Museum a few yards away were called in to box up the  fossils until they could be explored. Now young and old alike can watch paleontologists and volunteers as they work seven days a week on “Project 23” as it’s known. Yesterday, when our family visited, workers had opened boxes 1 and 14. Recent discoveries included jaw fragments of a baby bison, bones from a juvenile mastodon, sloth and turtle fossils. A paleontologist patiently answered our question about her work, her tools, etc.

Project 23 is taking place right in the middle of Hancock Park, just behind the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. While you are there check out Pit 91. Though digging at Pit 91 has halted while Project 23 is ongoing, you’ll find exhibits detailing findings from the pit as well as tools and techniques that paleontologists use there.

Access to Project 23, Pit 91  and the famous La Brea Tar Pits is absolutely free! You can park for $9 in The Page Museum lot or use metered parking on Wilshire (I believe there is a two hour maximum). If you want to see complete skeletons after they’ve been cleaned and reconstructed, you can pay admission to The Page Museum. It’s kind of pricey. However, if you complete the children’s worksheet available at the desk near the gift shop, you can get a gift from the store. We got a “Dino Picture Projector.” The best part of the museum is the “fishbowl” laboratory where you can see paleontologists and volunteers hard at work sorting microfossils, cleaning fossils, etc.

If you’ve never been to Hancock Park, bring a picnic lunch and check out the digs. The La Brea Tar Pits and surrounding sites are by far some of the best free entertainment in Los Angeles.