This is a homecoming of an all together different sort.
With a new digital map tool, paleontologists are offering you a new view of your hometown across the ages — and giving you a belated introduction to the dinosaurs that lived next door more than 100 million years ago
The online, interactive map of Earth, hosted on the Dinosaur Pictures website, allows you to time travel as far back as 750 million years. Users plug in a location, and then toggle between time periods spanning the geological ages.
Select a time period, and users can travel to different eras, experiencing their hometown as never before: What did New York look like during the emergence of primates? Or Rome in the Cretaceous period, the time when the supercontinent Pangea dominated?
The display shows what Earth's land masses looked like at that time, and where exactly your hometown used to be. It also lists information about the geological age and any creatures that once lived nearby.
The map was created by Ian Webster, a software engineer and founder of the tech company Zenysis. It's hosted on the website Dinosaur Pictures, which Webster curates, and purports to be the "internet's largest dinosaur database."
Webster built the tool using geological models created by researcher Christopher Scotese. The data describe how Earth's plates have moved over the course of hundreds of millions of years.
With the map, users can pop back in time to specific moments that changed the course of natural history. A drop-down menu includes options to view the planet at crucial times, ranging from the first sign of green algae, to the first vertebrates, to Earth's earliest hominids.
Webster has also pointed out some "surprises" along the way: The present-day United States was once divided by a shallow sea, while the Appalachian mountains used to be comparable in height to the Himalayas. Florida was once underwater (and may be one day again).
"It shows that our environment is dynamic and can change," Webster told CNN, describing his digital globe. "The history of Earth is longer than we can conceive, and the current arrangement of plate tectonics and continents is an accident of time. It will be very different in the future, and Earth may outlast us all."
Neighbors of the past — While we wait to see what future accidents of time history might bring, we can learn about the plants and animals that came before us.
Webster's online map shows the common fossils that can be found near a specific location. If you live in Phoenix, Arizona, for example, your nearby fossils include Albertosaurus, Sonorasaurus, Tenontosaurus.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati, Ohio was once home to mosasaurus, a massive aquatic reptile that lived during the Late Cretaceous. The popular fossils in Los Angeles include Plesiosaurus, and Fresnosaurus — the latter named after California's Fresno County.
Using Webster's map, users can get a bit more familiar with their local prehistoric fauna, and how the land has changed over the span of continental drift. For Webster, the project was born from fascination and appreciation for science — and he hopes to instill the same in others.
"It is meant to spark fascination and hopefully respect for the scientists that work every day to better understand our world and its past," Webster told CNN.