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From Hamburg to Kashmir, connections through fossils

Phil Stokes had just started his new job heading up the Penn Dixie fossil park when he got an email he thought was a hoax: Someone asking for help setting up a Triassic fossil park – in Kashmir, India.

The writer said he had visited Penn Dixie in Hamburg a couple years ago, and he wanted to do something in Jammu and Kashmir, India, to preserve rocks that recorded the Earth’s deadliest extinction event.

Stokes had some doubts, but he thought, “What’s the worst that can happen here?”

So he replied to the email.

And now Penn Dixie has entered into an international partnership with the newly formed Centre for Himalayan Geology in Kashmir.

Penn Dixie will provide logistical support and business consultation toward the development of the Kashmir Triassic Fossil Park.

“He wanted to save the rocks from being used as a quarry,” Stokes said.

In Hamburg, the Penn Dixie Paleontological & Outdoor Education Center is a former quarry that volunteers worked for years to save from developers. Operated by the Hamburg Natural History Society, it opened to the public in 1993. But people had been going to the former quarry for more than two dozen years to collect fossils.

The 54-acre site, ranked the No. 1 fossil park in the United States, attracts scientists and amateur geologists from around the world to find 380 million-year-old fossils like trilobites, brachiopods, corals, crinoids, fish and cephalopods to dig up and take home. Penn Dixie also has become known for astronomy and opportunities for bird watching and viewing wildlife.

The organizers of the Kashmir park are in the process of getting the land transferred.

“They’re kind of like we were at the beginning,” Stokes said.

He said Penn Dixie tried to put together an organization designed for longevity, and the Kashmir group has said it wants to have certain scientific equipment available, such as telescopes and microscopes.

“I encouraged them to consider aspects of building the organization first,” Stokes said.

He said the site in Kashmir has fossils that recorded the Permian-Triassic extinction event that occurred 250 million years ago, when approximately 90 percent of all marine species, including trilobites, and 70 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species, were wiped out, leading to the rise of the dinosaurs.

Geologists from the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Japan and Scotland have visited the site, according to the United News of India website.

“We’re sort of shepherding these folks for early stages,” Stokes said. “There’s only a handful of these places around the world and around the country.”


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