Fossils are red, violets are blue
Work brought me to the great state of South Carolina again earlier this week. I was anticipating having some “ground” time
so I decided to do some research on fossil collecting sites in the proximate
area / county.
The investigative powers of Google revealed some fossil
bearing plant beds from the Middendorf formation that is a facies of the Black
Creek Formation (which is mostly in Eastern North Carolina). Further research discovered a 1957 Carolina
Geology Society South Coastal Plain Field Trip that put a location on the site.
I also came across a 1907 photograph of
the stratigraphy of the said formation on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Photographic Archive website (free Photographic Archive
of over 27,200 USGS photos from 1868-1993).
I found the site on the various mapping sites but none had a
good aerial / “birds eye” perspective view.
Google came through once again via Google maps and I was able to view a
“road” perspective of the area.
Digging further into the research, I came across a 2003
article on these cretaceous plants written by a Biology Professor from an area
college. Luckily he was still part of
the faculty staff. So I made
correspondence with the good professor and he verified that there were still some
plant impressions and provided me information on where to collect.
With my job completed early and maps in hand, I proceeded to
investigate the reported four foot lens of clay containing many well-preserved
leaf impressions from this railroad cut.
I parked on the side of the road,
donned my gear and walked towards the bridge.
I peered over and could see the location that was “scratched” about and
bounded by areas of vegetation. As I
received a strange look, from a local in a beater truck that passed by me, it
dawned on me that most vehicles traveling across this bridge have no idea that
there are 70 million year old fossils (approximately) down below them. Well, for that matter, most wouldn’t even
care. Only the certifiable tread these
My heart started pumping and as I made my way through some
thickets toward the embankment. The
grade was steep with some areas close to 70 percent. That, in conjunction with a good bed of pine
needles, created the perfect condition for me to slide down to a level area in
no time. Luckily there were no hidden
stumps for me to take a header.
I then hopped over the railroad tracks and introduced myself
to the formation that stood before me. I
soon realized that this was not going to be like collecting fern impressions
from St. Clair, PA.
As stated previously, this was a lens of clay. My first whack from my mattock stuck in the
clay like super glue. The consistency similar
to what I was used to working with my art class from my former college
days. If I had a kiln, I would have
squirreled a big block of this to make some pottery. Hand made pottery from 70-million year old
clay…. that would be cool, especially with hand painted leaf impressions glazed
When I finally found my first impression, I ended up
destroying it (and it would have been my best one). Some excess clay was on it and as I tried to
remove it, I ended up smudging the specimen.
The only way to describe the formation is that it’s a very blocky clay
lithology with impressions mixed in but not in good bedding planes. The planes that do split to produce (if any) an
impression would be like a fresh red ink silk screen on top of this moist clay.
I ended up acquiring some partial specimens in about an hour
and then had to un-stuck myself and my boots from this formation. These
delicate and detailed red impressions on the gray clay background are some of
the coolest fossils I have collected in a while. I have no idea on the IDs, but the good
professor once again provided me with his input on the taxonomy… mostly
angiosperms…with some being Ficus crassipes and Celastrophyllum. As I always say, any fossil in a good