Last modified date

Events & competitors

Fossilympics 2020 Schedule

This year’s inaugural Fossilympics is unsurprisingly experimental. The details of the dates, events, and competitors can be found below (subject to final ratification from the Intentional Obrution Committee).

The medal table will be a load of old nonsense, lumping together modern political entities, palaeocontinents, and taxonomic groups, but what the heck. It’s no worse than any of the metrics used by the UK Government to assess higher education. Abbreviations used are explained at the end of this post.

Saturday August 1st

– (AM) Acritarchery. Archery is one of the oldest sports, and commonly one of the earliest events at an Olympic Games. Acritarchery is an even older, earlier pursuit, requiring an equally steady hand (and even higher-powered eyesight) to challenge for the medals. 2020 competitors: Leiosphaeridia (BAL), Shuiyousphaeridium/Dictyosphaera plexus (CHN), Tasmanites (AUS), Actinotodissus (BEL).

(Form guide: Heda Agić’s introduction to acritarchs).

–(PM) Javelingula. This exciting field event pits four of the finest brachiopod clades in a pedicle-to-pedicle battle. For those brachiopods not having pedicles, winning the event is even tougher. 2020 competitors: Lingulids (BRC), Craniids (BRC), Rhynchonellids (BRC), Terebratulids (BRC).

(Form guide: Sandra Carlson’s paper on the evolution of Brachiopoda: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-earth-060115-012348)

Sunday August 2nd

– (AM) Cycling (road race). At the Fossilympics, the cycling road race is always held on an orbital route, over a distance of either 23k, 41k or 100k. Milankovitch of Serbia is the hot/cold favourite, but Croll and Adhémar should not be overlooked, and Yorkshire’s own Yoredale offers a measure of coal-powered competition. 2020 competitors: Milankovitch (SER), Croll (SCO), Yoredale (YOR), Adhémar (FRA).

(Form guide: https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2948/milankovitch-orbital-cycles-and-their-role-in-earths-climate/)

– (PM) Swimming: 200 Ma. Having made it through a tough qualifying event in the late Triassic extinction, the swimmers in the Fossilympics 200 Ma must combine speed and stamina if they want to claim an Early Jurassic GSSP, let alone their place on the podium. 2020 competitors: Psiloceras planorbis (GBR) – watch it! This summer, set a biozone record that will be tough to beat! Sphenosuchus acutus (RSA) – just because it’s a crocodylomorph doesn’t mean it can swim! Ichthyosaurus anningae (GBR) – sweet Mary, this one’s got a chance! Gryphaea arcuata (FRA) – ok, the adults are pretty disinclined to swimming, but marvel at their larval dispersal!

Monday August 3rd

– (AM) Gymnostics. Which of these gymnosperms are living fossils? Spoiler: none of them, as there’s no such thing! Which of them is in with a chance of a medal? Well, that depends on you… 2020 Competitors: Ginkgo (GKG), Wollemia (PIN), Araucaria (PIN), Cycas (CYC).

– (PM) Charniodiscus. What’s the world’s most frondosous Ediacaran field site? 2020 Competitors: Mistaken Point (CAN), Ediacara Hills (AUS), Charnwood (GBR), White Sea (RUS).

Tuesday August 4th

– (AM) Stable tennis. Best stable isotope used in palaeontological analysis? 2020 Competitors: δ15N (PNI), δ13Corg (CRB), δ18O (CHL), δ34S (CHL).

– (PM) Rowing – single skulls. Best controversial fossil with only one cranial specimen? 2020 Competitors: Elginia mirabilis (SCO), Nedoceratops hatcheri (USA), Homo floresiensis (INA), Nemegtosaurus mongoliensis (MON).

Wednesday August 5th

– (AM) Noderm Pentathlon. There aren’t five events here. There aren’t even five competitors. However, recent work by Deline et al. (2020) has shown there are four basic echinoderm bodyplans, so you just need to decide which of these extinct examples is your favourite. 2020 Competitors: Ctenocystoid homalozoans (ECH), diploporitans (ECH), stylophorans (ECH), edrioasteroids (ECH).

– (PM) Wavelifting. Which extinct reef-building group best bore the weight of the world on its shoulders? Cnidarians and molluscs are always tough competitors; let’s hope the putative sponges soak up the pressure and don’t end up on the porifery. 2020 Competitors: Archaeocyathids (PRF), tabulate corals (CNI), rudist bivalves (MOL), stromatoporoids (PRF). Oh, and whilst we’re at it, isn’t the Digital Atlas of Ancient Life a wonderful thing? And the PalaeoReefs Database too!

Thursday August 6th

– (AM) Cycling (track). Best trace fossil that looks like it was made by a bike? 2020 Competitors: Cruziana (ICH), Climactichnites (ICH), Plagiogmus (ICH), Psammichnites (ICH).

– (PM) Decapodathlon. Best trace fossil that might have been made by a decapod crustacean? 2020 Competitors: Thalassinoides (ICH), Ophiomorpha (ICH), Rhizocorallium (ICH), Gyrolithes (ICH).

Friday August 7th

– (AM) Taxonomic Wastebasketball. Judging sporting events is always tricky, but this one is the most problematical of all. 2020 Competitors: Tullimonstrum gregarium (BIL) State fossil of Illinois, and I’ll annoy various people if I assess its medal chances, Acritarcha (PRB) surely the greatest taxonomic wastebasket of the fossil record? Thecodontia (REP) – socket to us, basal paraphyletic archosaurs! Gluteus minimus (PRB) it’s an arse to classify, but can this small but perfectly formed taxon muscle in on the big-hitters?

– (PM) 444 Ma Hurdles. The toughest event of them all, surviving the first of the Big Five mass extinctions, in conditions very cold, very hot, both, or neither. 2020 Competitors: Hirnantia (BRC, reigning champion); Normalograptus (HEM, a graptolite in the zone); Spinachitina (PRB, we don’t know what chitinozoans are, but this one’s surely a winner); Natiscotecella (BRY, sessile lophophorate it may be, but there are no loafers in this four).

Saturday August 8th

– (AM) Swimming – 100 Ma freestyle. The Cenomanian challengers (two vertebrate, two invertebrate) looking to chalk up a victory. 2020 Competitors: The Tethyan-derived belemnite Hibolites (MOL), The fast-moving ammonite Mantelliceras (MOL), The North African crocodilian Elosuchus (REP), The North American plesiosaur Plesiopleurodon (REP), which could win it by a short neck.

– (PM) 100 Ma. The Cenomanian is a prime time for these behemoths to battle for a Cretaceous crown. Which one will chalk up a victory? 2020 Competitors: Argentinosaurus (ARG), Spinosaurus (EGY), Giganotosaurus (ARG), Muttaburrasaurus (AUS).

Sunday August 9th

– (AM) Swimming – 375 Ma front crawl. Who can make it out onto land by the end of the event? And will they be disqualified if they do? 2020 Competitors: Ichthyostega (GRN), Panderichthys (LAT), Tiktaalik (CAN, has been training at high latitude), Acanthostega (GRN).

– (PM) 1500 Ma. Who’s going to grab the Mesoproterozoic medals? Eukaryotes, prokaryotes, Problematica? Only time will tell! 2020 Competitors: Sphaeromorph acritarchs (PRB); Horodyskia (PRB); Calcified cyanobacteria (BAC); Bangiacean red algae (RHO).

Monday August 10th

– (AM) Beach molleyball. It’s #MolluscMonday, and we need to know your most arenaceous shallow marine taxon of the Phylum Mollusca! 2020 Competitors: Polyplacophora (MOL), Gastropoda (MOL), Cephalopoda (MOL), Bivalvia (MOL).

– (PM) Polar vault. The fossil record of Antarctica has yielded some fabulous finds. But which one springs a surprise and gets your vote? And which one leaps to the top of the podium? 2020 competitors: the giant penguin Palaeeudyptes klekowskii (AVE); the giant paperclip ammonite Diplomoceras maximum (MOL); the helmeted frog Calyptocephalella sp. (AMP); the Permian porcupine megaspore Singhisporites hystrix (PLA).

Tuesday August 11th

– (AM) Triarthlon. Whether burrowing, crawling, or swimming is your strength, as long as you’ve got three lobes you’re in the medal hunt. 2020 Competitors: Paradoxides davidis (AVA), Agnostus pisiformis (BAL, could be disqualified taxonomically by the judges), Calymene blumenbachii (AVA), Olenellus thompsoni (LAU).

– (PM) 800 Ma. If you’ve not grabbed gold in the 1500 Ma, perhaps the 800 Ma is your time instead? 2020 Competitors: Longfengshania (CHN), Sinosabellidites (CHN), Cycliocyrillium (USA), Quadrireticulum (CAN).

Wednesday August 12th

– (AM) 50 Ma Butterfly. A pretty small Eocene pool, and one of the competitors has already been dead 100 million years, but the fossil record of butterflies (and moths) is always sensitively dependent on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. 2020 Competitors: Protocoeliades kristenseni (DEN: late Palaeocene, Fur Formation); Praepapilio colorado (USA: middle Eocene, Colorado); Prodryas persephone (USA: late Eocene, Colorado); Archaeolepis mane (GBR: Jurassic, Dorset). Might be quite hard for A. mane to win the butterfly, as it is very old, only has one wing, and is a moth, but one thing the Fossilympics can guarantee is surprises.

– (PM) Marellathon. More than 26 Ma of explosive competition in the Middle Cambrian, and the fieldwork looks very strong indeed. 2020 Competitors: Chengjiang (CHN), Burgess Shale (CAN), Wheeler Shale (USA), Sirius Passet (GRN).

Thursday August 13th

– (AM) Synchronized swimming. The final event in the pool, and things are bound to heat up as biostratigraphic usefulness gets put to the test, and synchronicity scrutinized. Sure to be fiercely contested by these most widespread of taxa. 2020 Competitors: Ammonites (MOL), Foraminifera (RHZ), Graptolites (HEM), Dinoflagellates (ALV).

– (PM) 4 x 10 Ma relay. The final event in the Fossilympics, and speed doesn’t matter here; it’s teamwork and survival that’s the key. Can your quartet pass on the evolutionary baton successfully enough to win the vote? 2020 Competitors: The gryphaeids (FRA/GBR: Gryphaea arcuata [first 2 legs, even though it doesn’t have any], G. maccullochi, G. gigantea); The equids HyracotheriumMesohippusMerychippusEquus (USA, galloping across the line); the dino-birds (Archaeopteryx and friends (GER/CHN), flying round the bend); the cetaceans Pakicetus-Ambulocetus-Kutchicetus-Rodhocetus (PAK, making a swim for it).

Friday August 14th

– Final medal table and Closing ceremony.

NOTE. Normally, morning events begin at 0900 BST and run for 24 hours, and evening events begin at 1700 BST and run for 24 hours. However, these are subject to change.

ABBREVIATIONS: ALV – Alveolata, AMP – Amphibia; ARG – Argentina; ART – Arthropoda; AUS – Australia; AVA – Avalonia; AVE – Aves; BAL – Baltica; BEL – Belgium; BIL – Bilateria; BRC – Brachiopoda; BRY – Bryozoa; CAN – Canada; CHL – Chalcogens; CHN – China; CNI – Cnidaria; CRB – Carbon Group; CYA – Cyanobacteria; CYC – Cycadophyta; ECH – Echinodermata; EGY – Egypt; FRA – France; GBR – Great Britain & Northern Ireland; GER – Germany; GKG – Ginkgophyta; GRN – Greenland; HEM – Hemichordata; ICH – Ichnotaxa; INA – Indonesia; LAT – Latvia; LAU – Laurentia; MOL – Mollusca; MON – Mongolia; PAK – Pakistan; PIN – Pinophyta; PLA – Plantae; PNI – Pnictogens; PRB – Problematica; PRF – Porifera; PRT – Protista; REP – Reptilia; RHO – Rhodophyta; RHZ – Rhizaria; RSA – Republic of South Africa; RUS – Russia; SCO – Scotland; SER – Serbia; USA – United States of America; YOR – Yorkshire.


Earth scientist in North Yorkshire, fossilist on the Cote de Saur. Director of the Yorkshire Fossil Festival and palaeontologist for hire. Can be found twittering and facebooking as @fossiliam.