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Earth is a dynamic, ever-changing planet. Over time the process of plate tectonics has caused flat savannahs to become soaring mountains. Rolling hills have become covered by vast seas as global temperature rose, only to be exposed again as the planet cooled. Violently erupting volcanoes have gone dormant as other volcanoes grow and form new land.

Life on Earth has been equally dynamic, adapting to the changing conditions of the planet or, at times, losing the battle to survive. In certain conditions and environments, past lifeforms can be preserved in stone and sediments for thousands, even millions of years in the form of fossils. These fossils have long been a source of curiosity and inspiration for scientists around the world, each discovery building upon our understanding of how life has changed through the depth of geologic time and helping inform how life will persist into the future.

The rocks and sediments of Mississippi are rich in fossils that paint a picture of the geologic history of this region. Researchers at Mississippi State University’s Department of Geosciences have studied local fossils for much of the Department’s tenure, with collected specimens being curated by the Dunn-Seiler Museum. As with any museum collection, there are many specimens held only for research purposes, and still others that have been collected but remain uncatalogued and undocumented due to limited resources. These stored specimens and their associated information are referred to as “dark data”. Shedding light on “dark data” through digitization and virtual exhibits allows museums to contribute to research projects on a world stage and invites the general public to be more active players in the thrill of scientific discovery.

This exhibit will take visitors on a journey through time to learn more about the geologic history and prehistoric life of North Mississippi demonstrated by specimens from the Dunn-Seiler Museum. We intend for this exhibit to grow as new fossil discoveries are made, ultimately leading to a comprehensive fossil list for North Mississippi strata that can be used by professional and amateur paleontologists alike.