Thursday, June 19, 2008

Digging for Fossil Leaves

One of our activities this month at the Beagle is a fossil dig, in conjunction with Scott Hageman and Brian Hoffman from the science faculty of Park University and a local paleontologist. Over the coming weeks, we will be digging for fossil plants from the Pennsylvanian era (approximately 280-325 million years ago), in a bluff behind the University, just a few minutes from downtown Parkville.

There are more than a dozen species of plants to be located in the limestone, sandstone, and mudstone layers which sit on the hill behind the Park campus. As part of a river delta or floodplain 300 million years old, clumps of vegetation were washed toward an inland sea by ancient rivers, and some of the decaying plant matter was preserved through fossilization. There is also a chance, although quite remote, of a fossilized trackways, the footprints of tiny early reptiles (or possibly amphibians) preserved in the neighboring sandstone layers. More likely are fossils from insects which lived during this time, particularly wings and occasionally complete bodies of cockroaches.

The majority of the fossils, though, are from a variety of species of ferns and trees which grew in the swampy expanses and shallow seas of the central United States (of course, the land masses were gradually shifting and changing, with seas rising and falling, during this period). If you'd like to see some of the fossils you will be looking for, you can find examples of them (in this case, from a site devoted to fossils in West Virginia) here.

If you are a Beagle Science Club member and would like to participate, there are - as of this writing - spaces available for the Wednesday, June 25 and Wednesday July 2 sessions. The dig will last from 9am to noon each day. Parents are strongly encouraged to accompany their children. To make reservations, please contact the Beagle on 816-587-9998.

Additionally, if you're considering coming along, here are somethings that you should know:

  • The hill is in shade in the morning, but the sun rises over the trees by late in the morning - wear sunscreen!

  • Our friends, the ticks, are particularly bountiful this year - wear insect repellent (and check yourself out afterwards)!

Here's the full list of materials you might want to bring:

  • Insect repellent and sunscreen.

  • Hats, gloves, and boots: the site is muddy, and you will be digging in mud to get to the fossil-bearing layers.

  • Water or something to drink.

  • A notebook and pen.

  • A rock hammer (optional).

  • A chisel or large flat-head screwdriver (to pry layers apart).

  • A small garden shovel or trowel.

  • Tissue paper or paper towels to wrap specimens.

  • Small sacks or a box to carry your finds.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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