A Full Weekend of Fun at PaleoFest

Burpee Museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary of PaleoFest that draws experts from around the world to share their insight with lovers of paleontology.

“This weekend is the center of the paleontology world,” says Joshua Mathews, vice president of research and operations and director of paleontology at Burpee Museum. “Like-minded people get together to learn what’s new in the field. Dinosaurs, fossils and animals of the past captivate everybody. And we’re proud to say PaleoFest has become a model program for other communities wanting to host similar events.”

This year’s event takes place March 3-5 at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, 737 N. Main St., Rockford, and features two days of events open to the general public from 9:15 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 9:45 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Events include a lecture series featuring 17 speakers from around the world, workshops for children, and eight Paleo Passport stations where attendees can collect information and learn about different aspects of paleontology. All speakers are scientists with advanced degrees or graduate students with specialists in some aspect of paleontology.

“When people think of paleontology, they think of dinosaurs, but the field covers a lot more about all ancient life, including plants, mammals, invertebrates, reptiles and more,” Mathews says.

The only undergraduate on the speaker’s list is Caleb Bohus, a student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, who will speak on “New Tetrapod Discoveries from the Late Mississippian Red Beds of Southern Illinois.”

Dr. Thomas Holtz of the University of Maryland is a world-renowned speaker in his field and has been part of PaleoFest for years. This year, his talk is entitled “Jane vs. Pearl: Contrasting the Biology and Ecology of Two Latest Cretaceous Dinosaurs.” Pearl is an Oviraptor dinosaur found in Montana.

PaleoFest kicks off Friday with two one-hour student symposiums for area public school students of all ages, in person or virtually. Interested educators can contact Burpee at (815) 965-3433 or email Ryan Pickerill at [email protected].

That evening, a “Member’s Night” for Burpee members features Dr. Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland speaking on “My Travels in the Jurassic World.” The presentation highlights his experiences working as the paleontology consultant on the 2022 summer blockbuster “Jurassic World: Dominion,” and will include information of his experiences on set, meeting the actors, and how he worked with director Colin Trevorrow, the writers and artists.

A Saturday dinner begins with cocktails and music at 5 p.m. at Hoffman House, 7550 E. State St. At 7:30 p.m., Dr. Lindsay Zanno of North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at North Carolina State University speaks on “A Hothouse For Cool Critters: How Cretaceous Climate Change Redefined North America Dinosaur Evolution.”

Some of the family workshops held during the weekend include “Fossil Lake in a Jar Workshop” for those ages 3-6. Fifty-five million years ago, massive lakes covered the western United States and preserved countless fossils from tiny horses to schools of fish. Learn about the process of fossilization and make your own Fossil Lake in a jar.

The “Brachiopods Cast Workshop,” for the same age group, teaches about plaster casts that re-create animal impressions after death.

For those ages 7 and older, “Amber Workshop” teaches about amber and how no other fossil preserves animals in greater detail. Participants can make their own amber soap fossil. Also, “A Guide to Paleontology Workshop” teaches youngsters about what it takes to be a paleontologist, including fossil preparation, studying the past, specialized tools and the different fossil phases.

A “Family PaleoArt Workshop” shows how artists and scientists can work together to create a visual representation of another time on earth.

For a complete list of classes and workshops on Saturday and Sunday, visit burpee.org/paleofest-2023-activities.

A number of ticket options are available to individuals and families, whether they want to attend the full weekend or parts of the weekend. Those options can be found at burpee.org/paleofest-tickets. General admission to the museum during PaleoFest includes the Paleo Passport Stations. ❚