Special Publication--KGS

Researcher ORCID Identifier

Glenn Storrs 0000-0001-8542-1557

H. Gregory McDonald 0000-0001-6916-7237

Eric Scott 0000-0002-2730-0893

Cameron Schwalbach 0000-0002-8357-3714



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Big Bone Lick is the birthplace of vertebrate paleontology in the Western Hemisphere and has a long and celebrated history in the exploration of the American colonial frontier and of the early United States. Notable European scientists of the 18th century such as Buffon, Cuvier, and Hunter discussed the fossils found there. Prominent Americans of the time, such as Boone, Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson are also part of the site’s history. It is the type locality for several extinct late Pleistocene megafaunal mammals, most notably the iconic American Mastodon, who were attracted to the area by salt licks dictated by the local geology. The valley of Big Bone Creek was unglaciated during the Wisconsinan advance and numerous saline springs well up through fractured bedrock of the Cincinnati Arch, providing essential minerals for the physiology of mammalian herbivores. The fossil remains at Big Bone Lick are an attritional assemblage, apparently including those that are the result of Native American predation. Archaeological remains from all local Native American cultural periods have also been found at the lick. The site is perhaps most notable in the history of science for its role in the development of comparative morphology and the establishment of the concept of extinction.

This special publication reflects research and scholarship produced in conjunction with the April 2022 joint North-Central and Southeastern section meeting of the Geological Society of America. As the authors are not Kentucky Geological Survey staff, the work described herein is not a product of KGS scholarship or explicitly reflective of KGS views. Additionally, cited historical documents included in this publication may include biased language or views that misrepresent indigenous cultures.

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Boone County, Rising Sun 7.5-minute Quadrangle, Big Bone Lick



Field Guide to Big Bone Lick, Kentucky: Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology