This week, the Shortlings got the chance to volunteer on an actual archeological dig.  We've been by this place a few times and never found them open, but happened to be in the area and noticed the sign saying they were having an open house.  We were heading elsewhere but as it turned out, had a few minutes to kill so we stopped in to stave off curiosity, more than anything else.  Imagine our surprise when the "open-house" turned out to be an "invite-the-public-in-to-help-find-fossils-house."  At one point in my childhood, I was very interested in archeology and I was rasied on the idea that dig sites are sacrosanct.  No one goes in who isn't authorized and only those who know what they're doing are allowed to look for fossil or artifacts.  

But this place is quite different.  There is no active digging (unless someone finds something and then the professionals take over, of course), but they actually want the public rubes to come in an help look for interesting fossils.  So they ushered us right in, did a quick orientation about what is a fossil and what is not, and then turned us all loosed to scour the place with our eagle eyes right away.  At this stage of investigation, all they want to do is look for stuff.  They're not going to dig the hillside away unless there is something real and important known to be there, but there are tiny fossils just lying around or that get exposed after rain and wind erosion and one only needs to look closely to find it.  When you enter, you promise that anything significant you find will be the property of the park collection.  If your find is important, it will go to the Smithsonian museum and you get finder's credit and your name on the fossil as it is displayed in the museum.  If you find something that is not significant, you may just get to walk away with it if the lead archeologist says it's okay.

While we were there, someone found a fossilized crocodile tooth and a couple of bald cyprus cone fossils, which the workers got really excited over (because with these fossils, they actually know what kind of wood it is, I was told) and earlier that morning someone had found a tooth from a Liopleurodon (or at least I think that's what he said; Professor Google can't search me up any other relevant results). 
The Dormouse found this piece of iron stone with impressions of ancient wood in it, which they let her take home.

And The Caterpillar found this:

Which looks like a bit of old firewood, I realize.  That's what I thought it was anyway.  But one of the park workers explained to me that this is actually a fossil.  I come from the land of the Petrified Forest, so fossilized wood looks like this to me:

 So this stuff that crumbles in your hands?

Not a fossil, in my mind. But the archeologist explained to me that when conditions aren't quite right for the minerals in the wood to turn to stone like in the Petrified Forest, all the minerals leach out and what's left is just the carbon.  So what you think you have in your hands is a piece of wood burned in some frat party campfire a couple of years ago, but it's actually a piece of 4 million year old fossilized wood.

Jinkies, that's impressive. 

We had a good time helping the archeologists search and now that we know that this place is there and when they're open, will definitely be going back to look for more.

But the best find of the month didn't even come from the Dinosaur Park, it came from our own back yard. 

The Caterpillar looks for things to make her go everywhere and comes in from the yard with seed pods, rocks, trash, dead bugs, pieces of metal in the road, pieces of glass, etc., constantly.  I find crap like this squirreled away under her bad, in her closet, in her bed, in my car.... oh, and on the floor.  Because eventually, it all makes its way to the floor.  It's actually pretty annoying because do you know how much of that stuff you can wash in the pockets of someone's pants before ruining the washing machine?  Well, I don't either, but I think we're approaching the limit.  

The other day she showed up with this:

A little Googling revealed this unusual little rock is similar to a Petosky stone, though it can't technically be called that unless it comes from Lake Michigan.  It's the fossilized impression of Haxagonaria, a type of coral that lived 350 million years ago.  We had no idea where it came from, if it's even native to Maryland or whether it's valuable.  The people at the Dinosaur Park told me I could bring it in and they would authenticate it next time they were open.  But I think I have to take The Caterpillar's packrat-ing a little more seriously now.