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Rediscovering North America's Forgotten Fossil Forests and Inspiring the Next Generation of Paleobotanists

Project Brief

This project aims to spark student interest in learning about fossil trees through a collaborative partnership between educational specialists and paleobotanists, studying mineralized wood collected from Eocene sediments of Wyoming's Sweetwater and Fremont counties. Amateurs have collected the renowned fossil woods (41-50 million years old) from these deposits for over a century. Despite the public interest in these fossil sites, few scientific studies  have tried to identify these fossil woods. Thus, botanical affinities for most specimens remain a mystery.

These fossils can enrich our concept of past vegetation and climate.


Paleobotany is a rarely emphasized STEM field. As a consequence of this lack of specialists most fossil wood specimens in museum collections have been neglected for decades. Our project goals are fourfold:

1. Research Wyoming's Eocene fossil wood by leveraging three extensive paleobotanical collections at American natural history museums that have not been studied to provide a more complete picture of the early to middle Eocene woody vegetation. 

2. Develop community engagement, especially for Native American communities in the Wind River reservation, through geo-education activities with local schools in Colorado and Wyoming to increase interest in supplementing current school science curricula with field experiences related to the Eocene fossil wood deposits being studied;

3. Implement active learning through  STEAM education on an international scale by creating the first multilingual

paleobotany kits for schools; and

4. Raise public awareness of geoheritage with a specific focus on paleobotany facilitated through the use of  Nat Geo storytellers. 

This project is supported by the National Geographic Society (NGS) Meridian Grant #NGS-96427R-22.

The Team

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Nareerat Boonchai


NGS Explorer - Project Leader

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Alice Whitehouse


NGS Explorer

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Thomas Rowell


NGS Explorer

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Mike Viney

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Indah Huegele


UF's Graduate Student

Florida Museum of Natural History

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UF's Graduate Student

Florida Museum of Natural History


Karina Hassell


Andrew Warnock


Carlos Velazco

iNaturalist/Field Biologist

NGS Explorer

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Puspita Insan Kamil

Social Scientist,

NGS Explorer


Rod Miller

Petrified wood amateur 

Citizen Scientist

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Sam Allen

Petrified wood amateur 

Citizen Scientist



Protecting the World’s Lost and Ancient Forests

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