The White River Badlands

The White River Badlands

Geology and Paleontology
Rachel C. Benton, Dennis O.Jr. Terry, Emmett Evanoff and Hugh Gregory McDonald
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 05/25/2015
ISBN: 978-0-253-01608-9
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The forbidding Big Badlands in Western South Dakota contain the richest fossil beds in the world. Even today these rocks continue to yield new specimens brought to light by snowmelt and rain washing away soft rock deposited on a floodplain long ago. The quality and quantity of the fossils are superb: most of the species to be found there are known from hundreds of specimens. The fossils in the White River Group (and similar deposits in the American west) preserve the entire late Eocene through the middle Oligocene, roughly 35-30 million years ago and more than 30 million years after non-avian dinosaurs became extinct. The fossils provide a detailed record of a period of abrupt global cooling and what happened to creatures who lived through it. The book provides a comprehensive reference to the sediments and fossils of the Big Badlands and will complement, enhance, and in some ways replace the classic 1920 volume by Cleophas C. O'Harra. Because the book focuses on a national treasure, it touches on National Park Service management policies that help protect such significant fossils.

Author Bio

Rachel C. Benton is Park Paleontologist at Badlands National Park.

Dennis O. Terry Jr., is Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Emmett Evanoff is Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado.

H. Gregory McDonaldis Senior Curator of Natural History in the National Park Service Museum Management Program.


“The fossils in this bone hunter's paradise provide a detailed record of a period of abrupt global cooling and what happened to creatures who lived through it.”

“Anyone interested in Cenozoic vertebrates or episodes of climate change in the geologic past will find this a valuable reference. ”
 — Quarterly Review of Biology

“In summary, this is a worthy successor to the work of O’Harra . . . It feels directed to the knowledgeable amateur or the specialist wanting an overview of the Badlands. . . . Job well done!”
 — Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

“The authors do an excellent job of presenting the current state of knowledge, the result of 167 years of research. They provide a historical summary, put the White River sequence in a wide context, and offer environmental interpretations based on fossils, sediments, ancient soils, and other post-deposition processes. . . . Highly recommended.”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

Institutional Acronyms
1. History of Paleontologic and Geologic Studies in the Big Badlands
2. Sedimentary Geology of the Big Badlands
3. Paleoenvironmental and Paleoclimatic Interpretations from Paleosols
4. Post-depositional Processes and Erosion of the White River Badlands
5. Bones that Turned to Stone: Systematics
6. Death on the Landscape: Taphonomy and Paleoenvironments
7. The Big Badlands in Space and Time
8. National Park Service Policy and the Management of Fossil Resources