Love fossils? Then you'll want to get your hands on the Digital Atlas of Ancient Life. The new app, developed by researchers from the University of Kansas, lets anyone with an iPhone or iPad discover and classify fossils with the eye of a palaeontologist.

Atlas Of Ancient Life App _2015_10_20
One of the species of marine animals known as a brachiopods featured in the app. Image: KU News Service

The team wanted to create a digital tool to inspire curiosity and make the science of fossils just a little more accessible – but they also wanted to help users access detailed info wherever their fossil-hunting adventures might take them.

"[W]hen people are out finding fossils, they’re not at their computer. They might be out walking, pick up a fossil and think, ‘Cool! What species is this? Where have others like this one been found?’” explains Bruce Lieberman, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the university.

The app links to pictures, maps and other information, including how long ago the fossils occurred. The best part? It's free.

While originally created with teachers in mind, the team thinks the app could be useful to everyone who's interested in fossils, whether you're a professional palaeontologist or just someone who's dug up a rock embossed with the remnants of a strange creature“It’s a way for anyone to find species in the field and learn something about them,” Lieberman says. 

The researchers are also eager to encourage any wannabe fossils hunters out there – finding a bit of buried treasure is easier than you might think, they say. "There’s evidence that fossils have fascinated humans for tens of thousands of years. We’ve found prehistoric encampments with fossils people had brought from hundreds of miles away," adds Lieberman. "We’re intrigued by this connection to place and history, and this app is looking at history at a large scale. It connects us to the world and makes us think, ‘Why are we here, and how did we get here?’” 

The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life focuses on fossils with origins in the Pennsylvanian period, about 290 million years ago, with fossils common to Kansas and the Midwest; the Ordovician period, with fossils often found near Ohio; and the Neogene period, with fossils usually located the southeastern US.

Download the app here.

Top header image: Reigh LeBlanc, Flickr