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From public lands to museums: The foundation of U.S. paleontology, the early history of federal public lands and museums, and the developing role of the U.S. Department of the Interior

By
Gregory A. Liggett
Gregory A. Liggett
Bureau of Land Management, Montana State Office, 5001 Southgate Drive, Billings, Montana 59101, USA
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S. Terry Childs
S. Terry Childs
Department of the Interior, Museum Program, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20240, USA
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Nicholas A. Famoso
Nicholas A. Famoso
National Park Service, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, 32651 Highway 19, Kimberly, Oregon 97848, USA
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H. Gregory McDonald
H. Gregory McDonald
Bureau of Land Management, Utah State Office, 440 West 200 South, Suite 500, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101, USA
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Alan L. Titus
Alan L. Titus
Bureau of Land Management, Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, 669 South Highway 89A, Kanab, Utah 84741, USA
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Elizabeth Varner
Elizabeth Varner
Department of the Interior, Museum Program, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20240, USA
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Cameron L. Liggett
Cameron L. Liggett
Bureau of Land Management, Montana State Office, 5001 Southgate Drive, Billings, Montana 59101, USA
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Publication history
21 November 201706 July 2018

ABSTRACT

Today, the United States Department of the Interior manages 500 million acres of surface land, about one-fifth of the land in the United States. Since enactment of the Antiquities Act in 1906, historic and scientific resources collected on public land have remained government property, held in trust for the people of the United States. As a result, the Department of the Interior manages nearly 204 million museum objects. Some of these objects are in federally managed repositories; others are in the repositories of partner institutions.

The establishment of the United States as a nation corresponded with the development of paleontology as a science. For example, mastodon fossils discovered at or near present-day Big Bone Lick State Historic Site, Kentucky, found their way to notablescientists both in the United States and in Europe by the mid-eighteenth century and were instrumental in establishing the reality of extinction.

Public land policies were often contentious, but generally they encouraged settlement and use, which resulted in the modern pattern of federal public lands. Continued investigation for fossils from public land filled the nation’s early museums, and those fossils became the centerpieces of many museum exhibitions.

Case studies of the management of fossils found in Fossil Cycad National Monument, the John Day fossil beds, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas of public land, the American Falls Reservoir, and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument are outlined. These examples provide a sense of the scope of fossils on federal public land, highlight how their management can be a challenge, and show that public land is vital for continued scientific collection and research.

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Contents

GSA Special Papers

Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making

Geological Society of America
Volume
535
ISBN electronic:
9780813795355

GeoRef

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