FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
We encounter many questions at the museum, from the media, working at the Castle Rock rainforest site, etc. It’s a very exciting project and with goals of both furthering science and public education, we hope to find and provide answers to all questions. These are the most frequently asked questions. Have a question? Please contact us.
- What are you digging for? What is this place?
Fossils. Specifically plant fossils like leaves, seeds, branches and trunks of trees. This is an ancient rainforest and we are studying the plant life that existed here long ago.
- How old is this rainforest? How do you know that?
It existed 64.1 million years ago in a time known as the early Paleocene. The time estimate was determined using a variety of scientific techniques such as radiometric dating, paleomagnetic analysis or drilling samples, and stratographic analysis. For more information on how we determined the rainforest age, see "Age & Formations".
- Have you found any dinosaurs?
No. Dinosaurs became extinct 65.5 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth near the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico (known as the K-T event). This fossil rainforest existed 64.1 million years which is 1.4 million years after the dinosaurs were extinct.
- Have you found any other animals or insects?
No, not at the Castle Rock rainforest site. We have plans to excavate a large 6’ diameter tree trunk where we may find mammal remains. There is insect damage on the leaves we are finding so we know that insects were present. The types of insects can be determined by paleontologists who specialize in pest damage. We have recovered one insect wing and possibly another. We may find additional fossil evidence of insects in upcoming excavations.
- Who found this site and how did they find it?
Steve Wallace, a paleontologist for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) discovered the site in 1994. He discovered leaf fossils as part of a scouting effort to determine if future road projects would impact fossils.
- Do you all work for the Denver Museum of Nature & Science?
No. Our team does include many DMNS staff, but also a significant number of volunteers to the museum who consider this effort more than just a hobby. The DMNS has the largest number of volunteers and volunteer hours of any museum in the country. Qualified volunteers were selected from this vast pool of resources to assist with the Castle Rock rainforest project. These volunteers are a valuable asset to the DMNS both in completing our great number of research projects and in obtaining funding for these projects. For more on volunteers and volunteer opportunities, see "DMNS".
- Do you all have education in paleontology?
No, at least not formal degrees in paleontology. Several of the museum’s researchers working on the project have obtained such degrees, yet there is a wide variety of volunteers working on the project who have a wide variety of background. Many of these volunteers have completed, or are working towards, the museum’s Certificate in Paleontology. Unfortunately, many universities do not offer actual degrees in paleontology. It is often treated as a specialization of geology or archeology. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) offers this unique education, taught by its paleontology staff. It is one of few places in the country to get such specialized education. For more on the education of the project team, see "The Team". For more on the DMNS, volunteer opportunities and certification programs, see "DMNS".
- Can the public visit the Castle Rock site?
No. This is strongly discouraged for several reasons. First, it is an incredibly valuable scientific discovery. Many of the fossils we are finding are new to mankind. It is easy to damage important specimens by handling or walking around the site. Second, many of the specimens we find need to be wrapped and sealed in plastic immediately to preserve fragile elements of the fossils and to slow the drying process. Unauthorized visits interrupt the work of researchers which can damage the fossils. Third, it is very dangerous to visit the site because it is right on I-25 with no good access. Police have ticketed some visitors for parking on the side of the highway. Also, this is a CDOT construction site which regularly has bulldozers, backhoes, trucks and paving equipment at work. Finally, it is against the Colorado law to trespass on a site of scientific importance or collect fossils without a permit. So, please view the findings of the project on this website in the "Images" section or visit the museum instead.
- You are digging in many different quarries at the Castle Rock site. Are you finding all the same fossils?
No, in fact, each quarry in this rainforest site tends to have different plant species that dominate. This is somewhat expected and makes sense because each quarry is dominated by the leaves of the tree present in the particular location. For example, leaves of the arctocarpus (breadfruit) tree represent the majority of the leaves recovered from one quarry, while another quarry may reveal high numbers of ginkgo or some other plant variety. The fossils reflect tree position in the rainforest, so each quarry can be exciting and new.
- How do you know where to dig? Isn’t just a hit-and-miss effort of searching for a ‘needle in a haystack’?
Actually, the discovery of this site by Steve Wallace, CDOT paleontologist, was more of a ‘needle in a haystack’ scenario. Preservation of fossils requires very special environmental conditions to occur. However, once the fossils were discovered, it was a matter of scientific techniques to establish a date for the rainforest. Then, by studying the stratographic layers exposed, it is easy to follow the layer of rainforest debris. So, we know exactly where to find the fossils and use massive earth-moving equipment supplied by CDOT to remove all the dirt down to the layers of interest. At this point, the fossils are abundant and great caution is used in splitting the layers of rock that we know contain our plant fossils. In fact, nearly every layer exposed with hammers, chisels and pick axes contain important fossil plants.
Have a question? Contact Us.