Fossil Cycad National Monument

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A reconstructed fossil cycad

Fossil Cycad National Monument was a national monument in the U.S. state of South Dakota beginning in 1922. The site contained hundreds of fossil cycads, one of the world's greatest concentrations. Because vandals stole or destroyed all of the visible fossils, it was withdrawn as a national monument in 1957.[1] It is located in northwestern Fall River County, on U.S. Route 18, northeast of the city of Edgemont.


Cycas rumphii, a modern cycad

The fossilized cycad beds were discovered in 1892 by F. H. Cole of Hot Springs, South Dakota, in the 120-million-year-old Dakota Sandstone Formation, near Minnekahta. Cole sent photographs of the fossils to Professor Henry Newton, a geologist at the Smithsonian Institution. Professor Thomas MacBride of the University of Iowa published the first description of the site in 1893. There were believed to be large deposits of Cretaceous cycad fossils. (Cycads are plants resembling ferns, although not related to them. The ones at this site were tree-sized.)

In 1920, Yale paleobotanist George Reber Wieland obtained the fossil cycad-rich land under the Homestead Act "in order that the cycads might not fall into unworthy hands". Two years later he offered to return the land to the federal government if a national monument could be established to protect the fossils.

Establishment of the national monument[edit]

The original monument was established on October 21, 1922, by proclamation of President Warren G. Harding. It encompassed 1.3 km² (320 acres) at the south entrance to the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was said to be "probably one of the most interesting fossil-plant beds yet discovered, with the most perfectly preserved specimens, and is known to scientific people throughout the world."[2]

The superintendent at Wind Cave National Park was given jurisdiction over the new national monument, but day-to-day supervision was left to local ranchers.

Deauthorization of the monument[edit]

Even before formal approval of the new national monument, all of the visible fossils had been removed, many by George Weiland. Excavations in 1935 uncovered many new fossils which were also removed by Weiland[3]. The site was retained for some years in the expectation that erosion would uncover new fossils. This did not happen, however, and on September 1, 1957, Fossil Cycad National Monument was transferred to the Bureau of Land Management.[1] In 1980, construction of a highway through the site uncovered more fossil cycads. The site was nominated as an "Area of Critical Environmental Concern" in 1997.[4].


  1. ^ a b Vincent L. Santucci and Marikka Hughes. "Fossil Cycad National Monument: A Case of Paleontological Resource Mismanagement" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-08-29. The bill was signed into law on August 1, 1956 and became effective September 1, 1957. On December 6, 1957, Assistant Secretary of Interior Royce A. Hardy issued Public Order 1562 to carry out the directive of the public law.
  2. ^ United States Department of the Interior, Glimpses of Our National Monuments. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1930.
  3. ^
  4. ^ page 91 of FOSSIL CYCAD NATIONAL MONUMENT: A HISTORY FROM DISCOVERY TO DEAUTHORIZATION, by VINCENT L. SANTUCCI and JOHN M. GHIST, in Proceedings of the 10th Conference on Fossil Resources, Rapid City, SD May 2014, published in Dakoterra vol. 6, published by Museum of Geology at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

External links[edit]

from Dakoterra, volume 6 (Proceedings of the 10th Conference on Fossil Resources. Rapid City, SD May 2014)

  • "Fossil Cycad National Monument: A geologic story." Tim Connors, Vincent L. Santucci, and Stephanie O’Meara. Page 38.
  • "Fossil Cycad National Monument: Preserving the history of a forgotten treasure." John M. Ghist, Vincent L. Santucci, Brent H. Breithaupt, and Gregory A. Liggett. Page 42.
  • "Fossil Cycad National Monument: A history with a future." Gregory A. Liggett, Brent H. Breithaupt, and Vincent L. Santucci. Page 54.
  • "Fossil Cycad National Monument: A history from discovery though deauthorization." (Presentation abstract) Vincent L. Santucci, John M. Ghist, Tim Connors, and Rodney Horrocks. Page 67.
  • "Fossil Cycad National Monument: A history from discovery to deauthorization." (Manuscript) Vincent L. Santucci and John M. Ghist. Page 82.

Coordinates: 43°23′42″N 103°43′35″W / 43.39500°N 103.72639°W / 43.39500; -103.72639