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C243 06 PLASTER FOOTPRINT FOSSILS

When you were first born, did the people at the hospital ink your feet and put tiny footprints onto your birth registration? Are your feet bigger now than they were then?

When you were in kindergarten, did your teacher pour plaster into a paper plate and help you to put your hand into it to make a handprint? Did your mom save your handprint? Is your hand bigger now than it was then?

Your feet and hands will never again be the size they were when you were little. However, you know for a fact that you were that little, because you have the footprints and hand-prints to prove it.

We know that dinosaurs once walked the earth because we have footprints and bones to prove it. Often, a dinosaur would make a footprint in soft earth that would later freeze (either during an ice age or during an ordinary winter). Sometime later, a volcano would pour lava into the footprint. It would harden, and over time, with heating, cooling, wind erosion, plant erosion (roots growing into tiny cracks in the rock), the rising and sinking of the land, the rock would turn over and there it was! Proof! Sometimes, the surface on which they walked, or on which they died, was a soft basalt material. When it cooled and hardened, it contained a print. These prints are called fossils.

When volcanos erupt and spew lava, the lava often contains many different kinds of materials. The different materials, not being mixed well, would separate from other materials, and would then congeal in pools, layers, or stripes. Some minerals cool faster than others, and they tend to form layers based on the rate at which they cool and harden. If an animal or insect is trapped in the flow of a volcano, it would immediately die, because of the very high temperature of molten rock, and its body would be "frozen" into the material. That is how you might find agate or quartz with an insect inside. That is how skeletons of dinosaurs are found right in the rock! Fossils!

If there is a bare spot in your yard at home, or in the school yard, we could soften a place with water, or pour some sand, and then check it every day for footprints. If you live in a city, the footprints would most likely be those of dogs or cats. If you live in the country, there are many kinds of animals that might leave footprints. You could try to attract some animals by putting seeds (for birds) or grain (for mice) near your footprint trap.

If you find footprints, you need to try to decide what kind of animal left them. You could make walls around the footprint by using a hoop, or just make a little levee with soft soil. Pour plaster into it, and put a cardboard box over it so nothing else will step in it. After it has had enough time to harden, remove the box. Very carefully pick up the plaster and shake off the soil. You have a fossil! Absolute proof that your neighbor's dog stepped there the night before! Or maybe a lizard skittered across it! If you want to save your fossil, put it into a sturdy cardboard box. Plaster is somewhat brittle, and if it breaks, your fossil is gone.

If you want to make a print of something that won't walk away, like a leaf, press it into some clay that is in the bottom of a small box, or a paper plate. Remove the leaf, and take a good look at the print. If it is defined, pour plaster into the print and let it harden. When the plaster is hard, turn over the box onto your countertop, and the plaster and clay will fall out. Gently push the clay away, and you'll have a fossil in plaster. You can do this with insects, a fish you catch, your baby brother's or sister's footprints (ONLY IF MOM HELPS YOU), or almost anything you'd like to save.

 
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