10am—5pm Tuesday—Saturday | Noon—5pm Sunday | Closed Monday

2018 Paleontological Expeditions for Educators

2018 Paleontological Expeditions for Educators

Nebraska Badlands
June 7-14, 2018
July 12-19, 2018

Mandatory Orientation/Training Session (Choose 1)
Saturday April 21, 9-12:30
Saturday May 5, 9-12:30 

This year, the Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences and the At The Bishop are offering educators two opportunities to participate in educational/scientific expeditions to find and study Oligocene fossils in the Nebraska Badlands. As part of the expedition team, you will scout for, find, excavate and study fossils in the White River Formation of northwestern Nebraska. The goal is to provide educators with an authentic scientific field experience, which will in turn be used to create more meaningful and unique science experiences and opportunities in the classroom.


Paleontology, the study of fossils, provides us with insight into Earth’s geological, ecological and evolutionary history. Through this professional development experience, you’ll learn about the scientific process first hand, immersing yourself in content and adding a new dimension to your teaching repertoire.

The Oligocene Epoch (~24 to 38 million years ago) was a time of remarkable change. The planet cooled during this epoch. In central North America, wooded ecosystems gave way to more open grasslands. Browsing (leaf-eating) mammals saw their numbers decline, while grazers (grass-eating) mammal populations increased. Some herbivorous mammals (like the ancestors of today’s horses) evolved longer limbs, enabling them to run faster in newly open prairies. Florida was also affected by this change. Sea levels dropped as ice sheets to the north expanded, and Florida began to emerge from the sea. Land dwelling animals migrated to the new peninsula, taking advantage of a new terrestrial ecosystem. Most of the species that we dig in the Badlands were also found in Florida.

The Badlands are internationally famous for having the richest deposits of Oligocene mammals known, including rhinoceroses, tapirs, early horses, horned deer, hippopotamus and dog ancestors and the “false” saber-toothed cats. The area is especially noted for Oreodonts, which scientists believe were distantly related to pigs, hogs, camels, hippopotamuses, and the pig-like peccaries. Digging in the Badlands ensures that you will find great fossils.

The Experience

Let’s be honest: digging fossils out of the ground during summer in the Badlands is hot, hard work. The name “Badlands” should be taken literally. The terrain is sometimes steep, and hazards do exist. You should consider participating in this experience only if you are fit enough to endure 6-8 hours of relatively strenuous activity in summer/high desert conditions over the course of a week. However, your hard work will be rewarded. The site we’ll be working is fossil-rich. You will find fossils, and you get to keep what you find – unless the specimen is considered extremely rare (i.e. a new species or a perfect specimen). In this case, the Toomey Foundation has the right of first refusal. We’ll provide you with a half-day workshop at the museum in the spring to acquaint you with your tools and practice basic excavation and jacketing techniques, so you won’t feel like a total noob when you hit the ground in the Badlands (Saturday, April 21 or May 5). But don’t worry, you’ll have experienced guides with you throughout the experience to help you find and excavate your fossils.

You won’t spend the entire week in the field. We’ve scheduled some time to explore local historical sites and museums. The housing accommodations, while rustic, are clean and charming. The food is excellent – you won’t go hungry. But this is “meat and potatoes” country, so please note that special diets (i.e. vegetarian and vegan) can be difficult to accommodate. Vegetarians have survived the trip in the past, supplementing their diet with prepared foods brought from home.


This year we are offering two trips, one in June and one in July. We can accommodate 8 teachers on each trip. If more than 8 teachers express interest, selection will be on a lottery basis. You may put your hat in the ring for both expeditions, but you may only participate in one.

Please submit an email indicating your desire to participate, specifying which trip(s) you are interested in, along with any questions you might have to Jeff Rodgers at jrodgers@southfloridamuseum.org. Provide your name, the school and grade level/subject(s) that you are currently teaching, cell phone number, and any special health and dietary considerations of which we need to be aware.

The Toomey Foundation will pay for your lodging, food, and ground transportation during the expedition (including to and from the airport), field equipment and side trips.

You must get yourself to Rapid City, South Dakota. A search of flights from Tampa to the Rapid City Regional Airport shows round-trip fares starting at around $600. Of course, you may choose to take a 2,000 mile road trip and drive yourself to the site. We can provide detailed driving directions for those who would prefer to drive. Please do not make travel arrangements until you have received official notification that you have been accepted on the dig team.

The land on which we’ll be digging is leased by the Toomey Foundation. You will be required to sign a waiver accepting full responsibility for your own health and safety and acknowledging that you may not be able to keep all that you find before heading out into the Badlands.