Fossils are evidence of things that lived long go. Some fossils are impressions left in soil that hardened into rock. Other fossils formed as minerals gradually filled in spaces where bones, teeth, or other remains decayed more slowly than the rest of an organism. Sometimes, fossils are dead organisms themselves, such as insects preserved in amber.
Paleontologists are scientists who study ancient life from fossils. They find the fossils in sedimentary rocks, which form as dirt settles in layers. Different layers can take millions of years to form. Erosion or uplifting may later bring the layers closer to the surface. After studying geological data, scientists head out into the field.
When they find fossils, paleontologists don't just yank them out and call a press conference. Working carefully, they dig the fossils from the rock with hammers, chisels, and other equipment. They make detailed field notes about the site. Then they pack the fossils carefully for further study in the laboratory. Needless to say, fossil hunting takes time and patience.
Here's a party game your guests will really "dig." Instead of sifting through dirt and rock, challenge them to find candy "fossils" in layers of crumbs and pudding. Prepare the "dig areas" beforehand.
For every four players, you need:
4 plastic food savers with lids, about 740-ml
200 grams (2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
200 grams (2 cups) chocolate graham cracker
crumbs or Oreo crumbs
500 ml (3 cups) chocolate
500 ml (3 cups) vanilla or
8 miniature milk chocolate
24 miniature hard candies
4 spoons and plates
8 index cards and pens
1. Place the unwrapped chocolate bars on a microwave-safe plate lined with waxed paper. Microwave at 50 percent power for 20 seconds.
2. Repeatedly press the cake-decorating tip into the softened chocolate. After the chocolate hardens, cut each piece in half to make 16 impression-type "fossils." The 24 hard candies will represent fossils where minerals hardened in spaces. Use 10 "fossils" for each of the four players.
3. Indicate "north," "south," "east," and "west" on the food saver "dig areas" by marking pieces of masking tape placed near each container's top inner edges. Label tape on the outside bottom with letters so that you can tell each container apart. Wrap masking tape around the outside sides of the containers to hide layers and "fossils."
4. Divide chocolate crumbs evenly among the containers. Spread into a smooth layer. Seed the bottom layer with one or two "fossils." Use one index card for each container to note where you place "fossils." Note each type of "fossil," the layer, and the quadrant (NE, NW, SE, or SW) where you put it.
5. Continue as in step 4 with a layer of vanilla or banana pudding. Follow with a layer of graham cracker crumbs, and then a layer of chocolate pudding. Place "fossils" in each layer. Keep careful notes for each dig area.
6. Cover each container and refrigerate it until party time. At the party, give each guest a prepared container, spoon, plate, index card, and pen. Note which guest gets which container.
7. Tell guests what kind of "fossils" they'll dig for. Guests should write down each fossil found, its location by quadrant, and its layer. They can eat the soil layers as they dig, or place dug-out material on the plate.
8. When everyone's done, collect the index cards. Compare the players' "field notes" to the notes you wrote for each container. Whoever recorded their pudding-paleontology findings most completely and accurately wins!
Editor's Choice: Kids Dig It! is a "fossil hunting" experience that can happen right in your classroom. For ages 11 to 14, the "dig" is a self-contained desktop cube, with layers and fossils from three geological time periods. The science kit comes with a complete curriculum and CD-ROM written by two classroom teachers. For more information call (727) 347-6050.
Amber -- Hardened resin from ancient plants
Erosion -- The wearing away of upper layers of rock and soil by wind or water
Uplifting -- As used here, upward movement of rock layers, which is sometimes caused by plate tectonics
KOWALSKI, KATHIANN M. "Dig In!(fossil research and educational game)(Brief Article)." Odyssey Sept. 2000: 18. Popular Magazines. Web. 8 Nov. 2009.
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