Badlands National Park Paleontology

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Paleontology

Badlands National Park contains the world's richest deposits of fossils from the Oligocene epoch - a period of time from about 34 million to 23 million years ago. Read More

  • Paleontologists use fossils, both plant and animal fossil to study prehistoric life forms.
  • The Park does not contain any dinosaur fossils; the eroding layers do contain marine fossils and a diversity of extinct mammals from the Age of Mammals.
  • Leave fossils where you find them.

Overview

The study of ancient life – life that existed million and millions of years ago – is known as paleontology. Because no plants and animals from that period of time survived to modern times, paleontologist use fossils, both plant and animal fossil to study these prehistoric life forms.

Due to the manner in which the rugged terrain of the Badlands was formed, many ancient forms of life were fossilized. Their remains are still being found in the deep canyons, chiseled spires and jagged buttes of Badlands National Park.

Paleontology in the Park

The White River Badlands of South Dakota are considered to be the birthplace of the science of vertebrate paleontology. The Park does not contain any dinosaur fossils; the eroding layers do contain marine fossils and an incredibly rich diversity of extinct mammals from the Age of Mammals.

Paleontologists have uncovered the remains of ancient three-toed horses, tiny deer-like creatures, turtles, a saber-toothed cat, dinosaur bones and other prehistoric animals. Fossils from early birds, reptiles, and invertebrates can also be found. Scientists have been using this area as an outdoor laboratory for over 150 years.

“The Pig Dig”

Most well known of the excavation sites, both past and present, within the boundaries of Badlands National Park is the “Pig Dig”. Excavation continues today at the Pig Wallow Site near the Conata Picnic Area.

Digging began in 1993 after two park visitors reported seeing a large backbone protruding from the ground. The site became known as “Pig Dig” because it was believed the exposed fossil was the remains of an ancient pig-like mammal called Archaeotherium. The fossil was later identified as the bones of a hornless rhinoceros called Subhyracodon, but the “Pig Dig” nickname stuck.

The National Park Service and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology have already removed more than 13,000 bones from the site for research purposes. Scientists believe that 33 million years ago this was a spring- fed watering hole. Contact the park at 605-433-5361 for more information on the Pig Dig.

Note

Leave fossils where you find them. It’s tempting to pick them up and take them with you, but don’t. Removing them from their context destroys much of the information critical to scientists.

Be aware: Digging and/or moving fossils or artifacts from their locations in the ground is prohibited by Federal law. Anyone digging or moving fossils or artifacts will be prosecuted. Fines range from $50.00 to $250,000 and in severe cases you may be jailed.

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