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A Treat for Region 8 on Halloween

Halloween held a special “treat” for 20 Rocky Mountain Region associates who took part in an exclusive tour of the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) fossil cage stored in Building 810 on the Denver Federal Center.

Building 810 was originally known as the John F. Kennedy building after it was built in 1963.  It currently houses the second largest federal collection and the most extensive collection of fossils outside of the Smithsonian Institution.

“Field parties have been collecting fossils for more than 125 years for the purposes of identifying and dating rock units (stratigraphy) within geologic maps,’” said Kevin “Casey” McKinney, Paleontology Collections Curator for the USGS. “This repository is the second largest federal paleontology repository in the USA.”

According to McKinney, there are about 1,000 cases with more than 1.5 million different fossil specimens being stored in the fossil cage. Based on the sheer magnitude of the collection, it is reminiscent of the warehouse scene at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” looking at the rows and rows of artifacts.

The fossils in this repository were primarily collected in the Western Interior of the United States over time but a few specimens were brought here from across the country for research. Unlike a museum that displays artifacts for entertainment and educational purposes, this collection has been used exclusively for research to identify areas of natural resources for geologic maps.

Initially, the responsibility for collecting and cataloguing the fossils fell under the now defunct Paleontology and Stratigraphy (P&S) Branch of the USGS which kept extensive records of locations where fossils were founds as well as identifying the species found in a particular area. What fossils the P&S Branch could not keep on hand are stored at the Smithsonian. The P&S Branch closed in 1995 but the original charter for USGS stated that when there was no longer a need to keep the fossil specimens, they would be transferred to the Smithsonian.

The collection will be transferred to the Smithsonian by late 2019 for further research beyond the age and stratigraphy of the fossils and center on studying communities of life on earth.  

“GSA has been a fine host over the many decades,” said McKinney. “The addition of bright lights and routine maintenance have made the collections safe and easy for researchers to study.”

This tour was part of a series sponsored by the Region 8 Engagement Team as a way to better connect GSA employees to their customers.

“This is an opportunity to connect employees to our mission and our customers as way to promote what other agencies do for the federal government,” said Christopher Gomez, Business Development Specialist.