Paper No. 222-8
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-1:00 PM
PLACE-BASED FIELD STUDIES IN PALEONTOLOGY AND ECOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE MARTIN COON CREEK SCIENCE CENTER
The University of Tennessee at Martin Coon Creek Science Center, West Tennessee is a Late Cretaceous lagerstatte deposit internationally recognized for its abundant and diverse fossils preserved unaltered, un-reworked, and easily extractable from the glauconitic, clayey sands of the deposit. Over 400 species have been identified from the site including representatives of: calcareous algae, sea grass, foraminifera, nannofossils, ostracods, bryozoans, corals, numerous bivalve, gastropod, scaphopod, and cephalopod mollusks, decapods, lobsters, shrimp, worms, echinoids, sharks, numerous fish (bone, teeth, and otoliths), turtles, mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, trace fossils, and the occasional fossil land plants (lignite and leaves). Initially constructed in 1988 by the Memphis Family of Museums and acquired by UT Martin in 2020, the 240-acre Coon Creek Science Center (CCSC) is the type locality and section for the Coon Creek Formation ("Old Dave Weeks Place"). Existing educational and research facilities on the site include several overnight cabins, dining hall, museum, library, and paleontology laboratory available to visitors. A variety of educational programing highlighting the fossil deposit and modern ecology of the site are offered for visiting K-16 public and private groups and general public. Most programing is conducted using open-ended inquiry methods of field investigation by incorporating visitors as field scientists for the time of their visit. CCSC staff, consisting of university faculty, local teachers, and trained student interns, engage all visitors in field excavation and laboratory preparation of specimens that are being collected as part of numerous ongoing research activities at the site. Visitors do the excavating after instruction on techniques and introduction to ongoing projects. Visitors also get to keep some of the more common fossils for their own use and education. Our "citizen science" approach to programing allows visitors to directly partake in the process of science, while contributing to CCSC research projects and often leads to their return to the site for longer time periods and as volunteers for more in-depth studies. Our place-based citizen-science studies contribute to a more complete understanding of both the Cretaceous marine ecosystem preserved at the site as well as the modern terrestrial ecosystem. Additional programs that incorporate visitors include explorations in field forensic geology and taphonomic decay experimentation, meteorology, astronomy, and geoarchaeology.