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DUMMY! DUMMY! DUMMY!

This posting is not about finding giant teeth or claws. It's about leaves. It's about the area of paleontology that gets mostly overlooked by amateur collectors. It's called paleobiology. Life changes to adapt to the changes in the surrounding environment. It's called evolution. If climate changes faster than you can adapt? Good-bye species! Paleobiologists collect the things most often neglected. The pollens, seeds, leaves, diatoms, etc. With these items they bring to life many of our popular fossils by putting them in their proper environment. A fine example is the evolution of the horse. The horse evolved due to the changes to it's food source. It's tooth dentition changed from that of a browser, to a grazer, as grasses took hold throughout the world. We know this from the seeds and wood traces recovered from the same locality with the horse fossils. I had this information pounded into my head early. So when I found a site with fossil leaves I acted to preserve them. This is my story. I was at one of my favorite quarries looking for archeocete material. The quarry is Middle Eocene Santee Limestone. To exposed the top of the limestone approximately twenty feet of overburden is removed. This consists of about 15 feet of Tertiary (recent to 500,000y) and 5 feet of Pliocene (2.5myo). A new section had been opened in the back of the mine and that's where I headed that day. It's almost a mile walk to the back. But from a distance of about a quarter of a mile I could see that there was something strange about the newly exposed overburden area. There was a black layer about ten feet down from the top that was three feet thick and ran for about 50 feet horizontally. I had never seen this before in the mine and decided to climb up and investigate. I was totally surprised when I found thousands of leaves falling out of the wall. The odd thing was that they were very colorful. Browns, greens, reds! It looked like fall. They were coming from several thick layers. I grabbed some loose blocks and pried them apart, exposing a matting of hundreds of leaves, pine needles, twigs and nuts. The first thing that came to my mind was that a modern sinkhole had been exposed. One that had filled with many seasons of falling leaves before filling in. But standing back from the wall I could see horizontal layers running for hundreds of feet, undisturbed, above the area. This meant that they had to have been laid down thousands of years ago. I took a few good clumps and met with the museum paleontologist the next day. He immediately recognized several leaves from trees that were not found in South Carolina today. We decided to visit the site as soon as possible. Before the site was cleared away. We removed several square yards from the densest layer and wrapped it in plastic. I took several large clumps home to examine on my own. The preservation was beautiful. I slowly removed leaf after leaf. The colors looked as if they had just dropped. And then found something even more exciting. The hard exoskeleton of a bug. I was astounded. It was a bright green color. Excited, I continued to remove leaves for hours until I had two more. Another green one. And a bright red one. I wrapped them carefully and the next day examined them by microscope at the museum. The paleontologist wanted to put them in the collections immediately. I should have listened! Instead I took them home with the explanation that I would go through the rest of my material and then take digital pictures of all that I found. So home I went to look for more. When I got to my lab I noticed one thing immediately. The leaves I had removed already had shriveled up and turned dark brown. I had expected some change as they dried, but this was really extreme. It was them that I got the bright idea to preserve the insects I had found. Before they too dried up and lost their luster. I decided to use a thick solution of butvar. I laid them out on wax paper and applied a drop to each one. DUMMY! DUMMY! DUMMY! I watched in horror as they melted before my eyes. All that was left was a light color of green and red. As you would expect I didn't find another one in the batch of material I still had. The samples we sent away came back with a date of 220,000 years old. The samples at the museum have dried out and sit in wait for an experienced hand to reveal the next great surprise. With a warning label not to use acetone in its preparation. DUMMY! DUMM.........
Location Berkeley County, South Carolina, USA

ID693
Memberpaleobum
Date Added10/22/2006

From far away the layer looked like a vein of coal.
This layer measured 10 feet down from the top of the ground. The very fine sand, between the leaves, indicated they had fallen into a small lake with very little water flow.
A close examination shows many layers of leaves separated by a thin layer of fine sand and clay. It represents many seasons of accumulation.
  

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