Welcome to my world! This is a research blog about what we do every day at the Illinois State Museum. I am a vertebrate paleontologist who specializes in Ice Age mammals. My research, and much of our museum outreach focuses on the rich record of Quaternary vertebrates in the Midwest and Great Lakes area. Why do we need another blog about giant extinct animals you ask? Doesn’t Switek already take care of that? Believe it or not, modern paleontology is a field whose breadth is huge! Here at the Illinois State Museum, many of the natural history curators are part of the Landscape History program. This describes what we do fairly well. The botanists look at vegetation change and the immediate impact of climate changes on the landscape. Paleontologists and zoologists work with ancient and modern critters, respectively. Archaeologists and historians look at how people used the landscape. Most importantly, we all work together to piece together how past ecosystems work. Just like we can’t understand the dynamics of human populations without understanding their physical environment, it is increasingly evident that we can’t understand vegetation or faunal communities in isolation either.
But why a blog? And why “Backyard Paleo?” Well, I work at the Illinois State Museum. That means that my research and activities are geographically focused on the Midwest. I don’t head west every summer to dig dinosaurs. I don’t travel to Africa to look for human ancestors. It is my job to explore the nooks and crannies of midwestern creekbanks, road-cuts, gravel quarries, and yes, backyards. In reality, there is really cool paleo almost anywhere–you just need to slow down and look closely. This blog allows me to show you (oh loyal reader) what we do, and why it’s important.
At least for the next few months I’ll probably be blogging about Quaternary mammals–with a particular affinity for mammoths and mastodons. This is because we’re in the middle of a big project to understand how and why these massive creatures went extinct at the end of the Ice Age, and frankly, there are a lot of stories to tell about elephants. So stay tuned, and maybe you’ll learn something about YOUR backyard.