- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

The meticulous study of fossils, called paleontology, reflects man’s desire to define his past by reconstructing the history of the Earth and the various life forms upon it.

Some of the heavyweights of the paleontological community have used their eye for detail to develop a new Web site that acts as an information clearinghouse, holding information encompassing hundreds of years of research into the millions of years this planet has existed.

The Paleontology Portal

Site address: www.paleo portal.org

Creator: Built by the University of California Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley, the online project combines the efforts of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, the Paleontological Society and the United States Geologic Survey with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to establish a central, interactive entry point to paleontology resources on the Internet for multiple audiences: the research community, K-12 education, government and industry, the general public, and the media,” says Judy Scotchmoor, project manager.

Word from the Webwise: Both the serious bone hunter and fascinated fossil fan will find something to enjoy in this rapidly expanding database combining bursts of scientific information with maps, images and an avalanche of links to seek deeper resources.

The front page presents an illustration of an ammonite fossil, shown in its typical banded spiral formation, containing links to the three main sections: Exploring Time and Space, Fossil Gallery, and Famous Flora & Fauna.

Visitors should begin with Exploring Time and Space, which leads to a hued map highlighting the topography and geology of the United States. The map is broken up by state borders and 12 time periods going back 543 million years.

Clicking on a state, time period or a combination of the two using drop-down menus leads to a page providing a slide show of fossils, more maps and text-based information. For example, Kentucky contains an abundance of well-preserved Cenozoic fossils, and in the Early Carboniferous period, algal and crinoid patch reefs grew in the warm, shallow waters at the southern end of the state.

Next, look to Famous Flora & Fauna to find information and photos on nine well-known dig sites including the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles; Mazon Creek in Will County, Illinois; and Calvert Cliffs, in Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs State Park.

I would skip the Fossil Gallery for now, due to a lack of images covering all of the time periods. I would expect the section to expand in the coming months.

Ease of use: Anyone with a Javascript-enabled Web browser and any speed Internet connection can enjoy the site using simple actions, such as clicking on the map or key, or using buttons and pull-down menus. Responses are delivered as standard HTML pages, requiring no plug-ins or proprietary software.

Don’t miss: Besides the primary sections, visitors will find a host of linked resources on topics that include becoming a paleontologist, laws pertaining to fossil collection, methods in fieldwork and a calendar of events.

Elements on the horizon: Miss Scotchmoor expects that information for all states will be accessible by September. Later enhancements will include a Demonstrations and Tours section, which will house site walk-throughs and special interactive exhibits; an alternate multimedia-rich interface; and an alternate query form for more directed, advanced searches.

Comprehension level: The site works for multiple audiences but is written at a high school level. The text contains a pop-up word glossary to provide assistance with technical terms.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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