Ancient history could be all around us—and a new app makes it easy for anyone to discover it. Perfect for amateur paleontologists, students, and professional scientists alike, The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life is a free app created by scientists at the University of Kansas to help people identify fossils in the field.
“The app links to pictures, maps, and information about how long ago fossils occurred,” Bruce Lieberman, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, told Futurity. “We thought, ‘Hey, when people are out finding fossils, they’re not on their computer.’ They might be out walking, pick up a fossil, and think, ‘Cool! What species is this? Where have others like this one been found?'”
Though most of us probably think of fossil hunting as the province of professional paleontologists, ancient fossils are actually surprisingly easy to locate. They're often found on beaches, or embedded in the rocks which line the sides of roads—and though some known fossil sites require a permit to dig, others are completely open to the public. The Digital Atlas makes locating probable fossil sites even easier by providing maps of known fossil finds, and listing the regions associated with different types.
The app focuses on three paleontological time periods: Neogene, Pennsylvanian, and Ordovician. For the most part, Futurity notes, Pennsylvanian fossils are common to the Midwest United States, Neogene to the Southeast, and Ordovician are generally found near Ohio.
Lieberman hopes the app will inspire greater curiosity about humankind's origins. As he told Futurity, “We’re intrigued by this connection to place and history, and this app is looking at history at a large scale. It connects us to the world and makes us think, ‘Why are we here, and how did we get here?'”