Thursday, 30 April 2020
Hoploscaphites nebrascensis is an upper Maastrichtian species and index fossil. It marks the top of ammonite zonation for the Western Interior. This species has been recorded from Fox Hills Formation in North and South Dakota as well as the Pierre Shale in southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska.
It is unknown from Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado due to the deposition of coeval terrestrial units. It has possibly been recorded in glacial deposits in Saskatchewan and northern North Dakota, but that is hearsay.
Outside the Western Interior, this species has been found in Maryland and possibly Texas in the Discoscaphites Conrad zone. This lovely one is in the collection of the deeply awesome (and enviable) José Juárez Ruiz. A big thank you to Joshua Slattery for his insights on the distribution of this species.
Wednesday, 29 April 2020
This classical Tethyan Mediterranean specimen is very well preserved, showing much of his delicate suturing in intricate detail. Phylloceras were primitive ammonites with involute, laterally flattened shells.
They were smooth, with very little ornamentation, which led researchers to think of them resembling plant leaves and gave rise to their name, which means leaf-horn. They can be found in three regions that I know of. In the Jurassic of Italy near western Sicily's Rosso Ammonitico Formation, Lower Kimmeridgian fossiliferous beds of Monte Inici East and Castello Inici (38.0° N, 12.9° E: 26.7° N, 15.4° E) and in the Arimine area, southeastern Toyama Prefecture, northern central Japan, roughly, 36.5° N, 137.5° E: 43.6° N, 140.6° E. And in Madagascar, in the example seen here found near Sokoja, Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa at 22.8° S, 44.4° E: 28.5° S, 18.2° E.
Tuesday, 28 April 2020
This an adult specimen (not the juvenile stage) from Upper Santonian outcrops near Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, Japan.
Aiba published on a possible phylogenetic relationship of two species of Hyphantoceras (Ammonoidea, Nostoceratidae) earlier this year, proposing that a phylogenetic relationship may exist based on newly found specimens with precise stratigraphic occurrences in the Kotanbetsu and Obira areas, northwestern Hokkaido.
Two closely related species, Hyphantoceras transitorium and H. orientale, were recognized in the examined specimens from the Kotanbetsu and Obira areas. Specimens of H. transitorium show wide intraspecific variation in the whorl shape. The stratigraphic occurrences of the two species indicate that they occur successively in the Santonian–lowermost Campanian, without stratigraphic overlapping. The similarity of their shell surface ornamentations and the stratigraphic relationships possibly suggest that H.orientale was derived from H. transitorium. The presumed lineage is likely indigenous to the northwestern Pacific realm in the Santonian–earliest Campanian. Hyphantoceras venustum and H. heteromorphum might stand outside an H. transitorium – H. orientale lineage, judging from differences of their shell surface ornamentation.
Aiba, Daisuke. (2019). A Possible Phylogenetic Relationship of Two Species of Hyphantoceras (Ammonoidea, Nostoceratidae) in the Cretaceous Yezo Group, Northern Japan. Paleontological Research. 23. 65-80. 10.2517/2018PR010.
Monday, 27 April 2020
|Mammoth Tusk, Wrangel Island, Arctic Ocean|
He would have had a shaggy coat of light or dark coloured hair with long outer hair strands covering a dense thick undercoat. His oil glands would have worked overtime to secrete oils, giving him natural — and I'm guessing stinky — waterproofing.
Some of the hair strands we have recovered are more than a meter in length. These behemoth proboscideans boasted long, curved tusks, little ears, short tails and grazed on leaves, shrubs and grasses that would have been work to get at as much of the northern hemisphere was covered in ice and snow during his reign. It is often the teeth of mammoths like those you see in the photo here that we see displayed.
|Woolly Mammoths, Mammutus primigenius|
How did they use their tusks? Likely for displays of strength, protecting their delicate trunks, digging up ground vegetation and in dry riverbeds, digging holes to get at the precious life-giving water. It's a genius design, really. A bit like having a plough on the front of your skull. In the photo above you can see a tusk washed clean in a creek bed on Wrangel Island.
Their size offered protection against other predators once the mammoth was full grown. Sadly for the juveniles, they offered meaty, tasty prey to big cats like Homotherium who roamed those ancient grasslands alongside them.
They roamed widely in the Pliocene to Holocene, roaming much of Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. We see them first some 150,000 years ago from remains in Russia then expanding out from Spain to Alaska. They enjoyed a very long lifespan of 60-80 — up to 20 years longer than a mastodon and longer than modern elephants. They enjoyed the prime position as the Apex predator of the megafauna, then declined — partially because of the environment and food resources and partially because of their co-existence with humans.
In places where the fossil record shows a preference for hunting smaller prey, humans and megafauna do better together. We see this in places like the Indian Subcontinent where primates and rodents made the menu more often than the large megafauna who roamed there. We also see this in present-day Africa, where the last of the large and lovely megafauna show remarkable resilience in the face of human co-existence.
The woolly mammoths from the Ukrainian-Russian plains died out 15,000 years ago. This population was followed by woolly mammoths from St. Paul Island in Alaska who died out 5,600 years ago — and quite surprisingly, at least to me, the last mammoth died just 4,000 years ago in the frosty ice on the small of Wrangel in the Arctic Ocean.
Further reading: Laura Arppe, Juha A. Karhu, Sergey Vartanyan, Dorothée G. Drucker, Heli Etu-Sihvola, Hervé Bocherens. Thriving or surviving? The isotopic record of the Wrangel Island woolly mammoth population. Quaternary Science Reviews, 2019; 222: 105884 DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.105884
Sunday, 26 April 2020
|Heteromorph Ammonites, Sowerby 1837|
The beautiful plate you see here showing two ammonites is from Sowerby (1837) and is one of the very first scientifically accurate studies of heteromorph ammonites. We see similar species to the heteromorphs above in the Nanaimo Group of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
During medieval times they were believed to be snakes that had been turned into stone and were sold to people going on pilgrimages. They have been found in archaeological sites in many parts of the world. We find them in archaeological remains spanning human history, across cultures and civilizations.
|Pictet's Paleontology Second Edition, 1853-57|
The beautiful plate to the left shows some of the heteromorph ammonites from Pictet's Paleontology in its second edition (1853-57). Some of the figures are copied from Astier or d'Orbigny works, not included in the first edition.
Ammonites are pleasing to the eye, usually taking on a planispiral form— although there are some helically spiralled and fully crazy spiralled forms — known as heteromorphs.
The most interesting of all the heteromorphs are the Cretaceous heteromorph ammonites of the suborder Ancyloceratina. The juveniles of this suborder played with every possible variation in their shell shape from regular planispiral and orthoconic to torticonic, hamitoconic and gyroconic.
The adults uncoiled the last whorl of their shell forming the characteristic U-shaped recurved body chamber you see below. A curious form as the aperture faces upward. Ammonites of the suborder Ancyloceratina may have developed a stationary brooding phase that could have several ecological advantages over free-swimming monomorphic ammonites.
His focus is on the morphological features of the adult shell in heteromorph ammonites of the suborder Ancyloceratina but does useful comparisons to a vast number of heteromorph ammonites in collections at the Department of Earth Sciences of the Natural History Museum, London.
Heteromorphs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They must have intrigued and mystified those who were first to find them as they do not have an intuitive shape at all for a marine predator. Do give Arkipkin's paper a read and bask in the wonder of the amazing forms of these ancient cephalopods.
Reference: Getting hooked: the role of a U-shaped body chamber in the shell of adult heteromorph ammonites. Journal of Molluscan Studies, Volume 80, Issue 4, November 2014, Pages 354–364, https://doi.org/10.1093/mollus/eyu019 https://academic.oup.com/mollus/article/80/4/354/1021718
Image 3-5: Ancyloceras matheronianus. A. General view. B. Inner part of vertical shaft with resolved ribs (RR). C. Inner part of U-shaped adult living chamber with less resolved ribs (WR). Abbreviations as in Figure 2. Scale bar = 1 cm.
Friday, 24 April 2020
|Hoplites (Hoplites) bennettiana (Sowerby, 1826)|
The species name is an homage to Etheldred Benett, an early English geologist often credited with being the first female geologist — a fossil collector par excellence.
She was also credited with being a man — the Natural History Society of Moscow awarding her membership as Master Etheldredus Benett in 1836. The confusion over her name (it did sound masculine) came again with the bestowing of a Doctorate of Civil Law from Tsar Nicholas I.
The Tsar had read Sowerby's Mineral Conchology, a major fossil reference work which contained the second-highest number of contributed fossils of the day, many the best quality available at the time. Forty-one of those specimens were credited to Benett. Between her name and this wonderous contribution to a growing science, the Russian Tsar awarded the Doctorate to what he believed was a young male scientist on the rise. He believed in education, founding Kiev University in 1834, just not for women. He was an autocratic military man frozen in time — the thought that this work could have been done by a female unthinkable. Doubly charming is that the honour from the University of St Petersburg was granted at a time when women were not allowed to attend St. Pete's or any higher institutions. That privilege arrived in 1878, twenty years after Nicholas I's death.
Benett took these honours (and social blunders) with grace. She devoted her life to collecting and studying fossils from the southwest of England, amassing an impressive personal collection she openly shared with geologist friends, colleagues and visitors to her home. Her specialty was fossils from the Middle Cretaceous, Upper Greensand in the Vale of Wardour — a valley in the county of Wiltshire near the River Nadder.
Etheldred was a local Wiltshire girl. Born Etheldred Benett on 22 July 1775 at Pyt House, Tisbury, Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of the local squire Thomas Benett. Etheldred's interest was cultivated by the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761-1842), a founding member of the Linnean Society. Benett's brother had married Lucy Lambert, Aylmer's half-sister. Aylmer was a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of the Arts. He was also an avid fossil collector and member of the Geological Society of London. The two met and got on famously.
Aylmer kindled an interest in natural history in both of Benett's daughters. Etheldred had a great fondness in geology, stratigraphy and all things paleo, whilst her sister concentrated on botany. Etheldred had a distinct advantage over her near contemporary, the working-class Mary Anning (1799-1847), in that Benett was a woman of independent wealth who never married — and didn't need to — who could pursue the acquisition and study of fossils for her own interest.
While Anning was the marine reptile darling of the age, she was also greatly hindered by her finances. "She sells, seashells by the seashore..." while chanted in a playful spirit today, was not meant kindly at the time. Aylmer's encouragement emboldened Etheldred to go into the field to collect for herself — and collect she did. Profusely.
Benett’s contribution to the early history of Wiltshire geology is significant. She corresponded extensively with the coterie of gentlemen scientists of the day — Gideon Mantell, William Buckland, James Sowerby, George Bellas Greenough and, Samuel Woodward. She also consorted with the lay folk and had an ongoing correspondence with William Smith, whose stratigraphy work had made a favourable impression on her brother-in-law, Aylmer.
Her collections and collaboration with geologists of the day were instrumental in helping to form the field of geology as a science. One colleague and friend, Gideon Mantell, British physician, geologist and paleontologist, who discovered four of the five genera of dinosaurs and Iguanadon, was so inspired by Benett's work he named this Cretaceous ammonite after her — Hoplites bennettiana.
Benett's fossil assemblage was a valuable resource for her contemporaries and remains so today. It contains thousands of Jurassic and Cretaceous fossil specimens from the Wiltshire area and the Dorset Coast, including a myriad of first recorded finds. The scientific name of every taxon is usually based on one particular specimen, or in some cases multiple specimens. Many of the specimens she collected serve as the Type Specimen for new species.
|Fossil Sponge, Polypothecia quadriloba, Warminster, Wiltshire|
Alas, no one took up the helm — those interested were busy with other pursuits (or passed away) and others were less than enthusiastic or never seemed to get around to it.
To ensure the knowledge was shared in a timely fashion, she finally wrote them up and published them herself. You can read her findings in her publication, ‘A Catalogue of Organic Remains of the County of Wiltshire’ (1831), where she shares observations on the fossil sponge specimens and other invert goodies from the outcrops west of town.
She shared her ideas freely and donated many specimens to local museums. It was through her exchange of observations, new ideas and open sharing of fossils with Gideon Mantell and others that a clearer understanding of the Lower Cretaceous sedimentary rocks of Southern England was gained.
In many ways, Mantell was drawn to Benett as his ideas went against the majority opinion. At a time when marine reptiles were dominating scientific discoveries and discussions, he pushed the view that dinosaurs were terrestrial, not amphibious, and sometimes bipedal. Mantell's life's work established the now-familiar idea that the Age of Reptiles preceded the Age of Mammals. Mantell kept a journal from 1819-1852, that remained unpublished until 1940 when E. Cecil Curwen published an abridged version. (Oxford University Press 1940). John A. Cooper, Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove, published the work in its entirety in 2010.
I was elated to get a copy, both to untangle the history of the time and to better learn about the relationship between Mantell and Benett. So much of our geologic past has been revealed since Mantell's first entry two hundred years ago. The first encounter we share with the two of them is a short note from March 8, 1819. "This morning I received a letter from Miss Bennett of Norton House near Warminster Wilts, informing me of her having sent a packet of fossils for me, to the Waggon Office..." The diary records his life, but also the social interactions of the day and the small connected community of the scientific social elite. It is a delight!
Though a woman in a newly evolving field, her work, dedication and ideas were recognized and appreciated by her colleagues. Gideon Mantell described her as, "a lady of great talent and indefatigable research," whilst the Sowerbys noted her, "labours in the pursuit of geological information have been as useful as they have been incessant."
Benett produced the first measured sections of the Upper Chicksgrove quarry near Tisbury in 1819, published and shared with local colleagues as, "the measure of different beds of stone in Chicksgrove Quarry in the Parish of Tisbury.” The stratigraphic section was later published by naturalist James Sowerby without her knowledge. Her research contradicted many of Sowerby’s conclusions.
She wrote and privately published a monograph in 1831, containing many of her drawings and sketches of molluscs and sponges. Her work included sketches of fossil Alcyonia (1816) from the Green Sand Formation at Warminster Common and the immediate vicinity of Warminster in Wiltshire.
|Echinoids and Bivalves. Collection of Etheldred Benett (1775-1845)|
If you'd like to read a lovely tale on William's work, check out the Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester. It narrates the intellectual context of the time, the development of Smith's ideas and how they contributed to the theory of evolution and more generally to a dawning realization of the true age of the earth.
The book describes the social, economic or industrial context for Smith's insights and work, such as the importance of coal mining and the transport of coal by means of canals, both of which were a stimulus to the study of geology and the means whereby Smith supported his research. Benett debated many of the ideas Smith put forward. She was luckier than Smith financially, coming from a wealthy family, a financial perk that allowed her the freedom to add fossils to her curiosity cabinet at will.
Most of her impressive collection was assumed lost in the early 20th century. It was later found and purchased by an American, Thomas Bellerby Wilson, who donated it to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Small parts of it made their way into British museums, including the Leeds City Museum, London, Bristol and to the University of St. Petersburg. These collections contain many type specimens and some of the very first fossils found — some with the soft tissues preserved. When Benett died in 1845, it was Mantell who penned her obituary for the London Geological Journal.
In 1989, almost a hundred and fifty years after her death, a review of her collection had Arthur Bogen and Hugh Torrens remark that her work has significantly impacted our modern understanding of Porifera, Coelenterata, Echinodermata, and the molluscan classes, Cephalopoda, Gastropoda, and Bivalvia. A worthy legacy, indeed.
Her renown lives on through her collections, her collaborations and through the beautiful 110 million-year-old ammonite you see here, Hoplites bennettiana. The lovely example you see here is in the collection of the deeply awesome Christophe Marot.
Spamer, Earle E.; Bogan, Arthur E.; Torrens, Hugh S. (1989). "Recovery of the Etheldred Benett Collection of fossils mostly from Jurassic-Cretaceous strata of Wiltshire, England, analysis of the taxonomic nomenclature of Benett (1831), and notes and figures of type specimens contained in the collection". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 141. pp. 115–180. JSTOR 4064955.
Torrens, H. S.; Benamy, Elana; Daeschler, E.; Spamer, E.; Bogan, A. (2000). "Etheldred Benett of Wiltshire, England, the First Lady Geologist: Her Fossil Collection in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the Rediscovery of "Lost" Specimens of Jurassic Trigoniidae (Mollusca: Bivalvia) with Their Soft Anatomy Preserved.". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. 150. pp. 59–123. JSTOR 4064955.
Photo credit: Fossils from Wiltshire. In the foreground are three examples of the echinoid, Cidaris crenularis, from Calne, a town in Wiltshire, southwestern England, with bivalves behind. Caroline Lam, Archivist at the Geological Society, London, UK. http://britgeodata.blogspot.com/2016/03/etheldred-benett-first-female-geologist_30.html
Photo credit: Fossil sponges Polypothecia quadriloba, from Warminster, Wiltshire. The genus labels are Benett’s, as is the handwriting indicating the species. The small number, 20812, is the Society’s original accession label from which we can tell that the specimen was received in April 1824. The tablet onto which the fossils were glued is from the Society’s old Museum.
Thursday, 23 April 2020
This stretch of coastline is home to the Clallam Formation, a thick, mainly marine sequence of sandstones and siltstones that line the northwestern margin of western Washington. These beachfront exposures offer plentiful fossils for those keen to make the trek.
The beautifully preserved clams, scallops and gastropods found here are mostly shallow-water marine from the late Eocene to Miocene. Time, tide and weather permitting, a site well worth visiting is the south flank of a syncline at Slip Point, near Clallam Bay. Head to the most Northwestern tip of the lower 48, visiting Cape Flattery on the Makah Reservation located 75 miles NW of PA on Hwy 112. Cape Flattery is located approx 7 miles from Neah Bay. The newly constructed wooden walkway takes you to some of the most gorgeous, rugged and wild scenery on the Pacific Coast.
Be sure to take time to explore the internationally known Makah Museum. The museum is open every day during the summer months and closed Mondays and Tuesdays from Sept. 16 through May 31. The hours are 10AM-5PM. The Makah Museum is the nation's sole repository for archaeological discoveries at the Makah Coastal village of Ozette. The centuries-old village was located 15 miles south of present-day Neah Bay. Ozette served the Makah people as a year-around home well into the 20th century.
Three miles of the planked trail leads you to Sand Point, one of the most beautiful and primitive beaches on the coast. Continuing north along the beach you will find dozens of Indian petroglyphs at Wedding Rocks, ask for the interpretive handout at the ranger station. The northern point of this 9-mile triangular trail is Cape Alava, with a rocky shore and reefs to explore at low tide.
Cape Alava is also the site of an ancient Makah village. The site is now closed and marked with a small sign. Be sure to check a tide table and carry the 10 essentials - and lots of film as seals, deer, eagles and perhaps osprey, otters and whales may be there, rain or shine! Hike north to Cape Alava along the beach to keep the ocean breeze at your back, and avoid Vibram-soled shoes as the cedar plank walkway can be slick!
The Dungeness Spit and Wildlife Refuge offers great beach hiking and wildlife. The Olympic Game Farm in Sequim is great for children of all ages. Ediz Hook in Port Angeles provides great views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. Ediz Hook is part of the 5.5 miles of Waterfront Trail; perfect for jogging, walking and biking. The Elwha Valley west of Port Angeles is a beautiful drive along the rushing Elwha River. Madison Falls is an easy hike. Further up the valley beyond Lake Mills is the trailhead to the Olympic Hot Springs.
Port Townsend, known as "Washington's Victorian Seaport" is less than an hour east of Sequim. Victorian homes and commercial buildings erected during the late 1800s are still the city's trademark, along with Fort Worden State Park.
Park fee: A pass is required to enter the Olympic National Park. The fee is $10.00 per carload and is good for 7 days. It can be attained at any of the Park entrances. No pass is required during the winter months for the Elwha Valley or the Sol Duc Valley. Phone # for Olympic National Park Visitors Center in Port Angeles is 360-452-2713.
Directions: From Vancouver, it is a 5-6 hour drive to the Olympic Peninsula. Head South on Oak or Knight to connect up with Hwy 99 to the US border and continue South on Hwy 5, past Bellingham, take Hwy 20 to Anacortes.Head South on Hwy 20 until you get to the Keystone Jetty. Take the ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend. From Port Townsend take Hwy 20 until it connects with Hwy 101. Turn right onto Hwy 101 and head West.
You will pass through Port Angeles. This is an excellent place for you to top up your food stores and fill up with gas. Just after Port Angeles, look for a sign for Hwy 112 (towards Joyce, Neah Bay & Seiqu). Turn right and head West. It is about another 30 km from Port Angeles to Whiskey Creek. From the turn-off, it is about 10 miles to Joyce.
This little town has restaurants and gas stations. From Joyce, it is another 3 miles to the campsite at Whiskey Creek where Joe or Ronee can help direct you to your cabin or campsite.
Wednesday, 22 April 2020
Crinoids are unusually beautiful and graceful members of the phylum Echinodermata. They resemble an underwater flower swaying in an ocean current. But make no mistake they are marine animals. Picture a flower with a mouth on the top surface that is surrounded by feeding arms. Awkwardly, add an anus right beside that mouth. That's him!
Crinoids with root-like anchors are called Sea Lilies. They have graceful stalks that grip the ocean floor. Those in deeper water have longish stalks up to 3.3 ft or a meter in length.
Then there are other varieties that are free-swimming with only vestigial stalks. They make up the majority of this group and are commonly known as feather stars or comatulids. Unlike the sea lilies, the feather stars can move about on tiny hook-like structures called cirri. It is these same cirri that allows crinoids to latch to surfaces on the seafloor. Like other echinoderms, crinoids have pentaradial symmetry. The aboral surface of the body is studded with plates of calcium carbonate, forming an endoskeleton similar to that in starfish and sea urchins.
These make the calyx somewhat cup-shaped, and there are few, if any, ossicles in the oral (upper) surface called a tegmen. It is divided into five ambulacral areas, including a deep groove from which the tube feet project, and five interambulacral areas between them. The anus, unusually for echinoderms, is found on the same surface as the mouth, at the edge of the tegmen.
Crinoids are alive and well today. They are also some of the oldest fossils on the planet. We have lovely fossil specimens dating back to the Ordovician.
Tuesday, 21 April 2020
In his original description of Strombus latus, Gmelin describes this new species in his paper from 1791, page 3520: "latus. 35. Str. testae labro prominulo inferne bis emarginato, spirae anfractu primo medio laevi utrinque transversim striato, reliquis nodis obtusis coronatis."
Persististrombus latus is the most iconic representative of the Senegalese fauna, a fossil assemblage of tropical water organisms thought to have colonized the Mediterranean Sea during the last interglacial period.
This lovely Eocene gastropod has become an important stratigraphic marker of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5.5, which allows for the correlation of raised coastal deposits, useful in studying sea-level variations and tectonic uplift.
Persististrombus latus is found in shallow marine sediments of Tyrrhenian age (∼124 ka) in several localities of the Italian peninsula. Gmelin's early work on the species is from upper Pleistocene deposits of the marine terraces of the Crotone peninsula of southern Italy. If you fancy a visit to this locality, head to: N38°45'00" - N39°04'60", E17°04'60" - E17°19'60".
Commonly known as the Bubonian Conch, this species of sea snail is a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Strombidae, the true conchs. These fellows are herbivorous, dining on wee bits of algae, seagrass and other detritus found along the seafloor. They grow to around 2.76" - 6.5" (7cm - 16.5cm). We find them in the fossil record and also as modern shells in the Atlantic Ocean along West Africa, Senegal, Gabon, Cape Verde, Ascension Island and Angola. They like it warm, preferring seas of 57.2 °F - 68 °F (14°C - 20°C).
Ronald Nalin, Valentina Alice Bracchi, Daniela Basso, Francesco Massari; Persististrombus latus (Gmelin) in the upper Pleistocene deposits of the marine terraces of the Crotone peninsula (southern Italy). Italian Journal of Geosciences ; 131 (1): 95–101. doi: https://doi.org/10.3301/IJG.2011.25
Gmelin J.F. (1791). Vermes. In: Gmelin J.F. (Ed.) Caroli a Linnaei Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Ed. 13. Tome 1(6). G.E. Beer, Lipsiae [Leipzig]. pp. 3021-3910.
Monday, 20 April 2020
Together they form some of the oldest (and last remaining) wonders of the ancient world. The great pyramids of Giza, with their smooth exteriors carved from fine grain white limestone quarried at Tura on the Giza-plateau, are built from stone that speaks of Egypt's much older geologic history.
The limestone from Tura was the finest and whitest of all the Egyptian quarries and chosen for the facing stones for the richest tombs. It is interesting in that it is made up almost entirely of Nummulites, a lovely single-celled organism. Nummulites (Lamarck, 1801) are the calcareous chambered shells (tests) of extinct forms of marine, amoeba-like organisms — protozoans or protists — called foraminifera that accumulated in huge quantities during the early Cenozoic. They look very much like little white, round crackers or cross-sections of plants with their concentric rings.
Imagine millions of them with their wee calcium carbonate skeletons living, dying and sinking to the seafloor. Over time, these little lovelies gathered in layers, pressure and time doing the rest. They became cemented together and helped form some of the most beautiful limestones we have today. It is remarkable to think that Khufu or Cheops, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, the oldest and largest of the pyramids at Giza built back in the 4th dynasty golden age and the only remaining wonder of the ancient world, is made up of teeny, tiny single-celled fossils — mindblowing!
They are commonly found as fossils in Eocene to Miocene marine rocks, particularly around southwest Asia and the Mediterranean — including the Eocene limestones of Egypt that lived in the Tethys sea.
|Fossil Nummulites / Urbasa, Navarre|
The small size of most cells has to do with how they move the nutrients they need across their cell membrane — a process called diffusion. Nummulites grew much larger, six inches is mighty big for a single-celled organism, because of their overall design. They evolved to increase their surface area and create a greater opportunity for diffusion. Clever.
In our modern Nummulites, we see a symbiotic relationship with algae that allowed them to grow much larger. Each of these little fellows has a community of them living with him. Lorraine Casazza, a University of California at Berkeley paleontologist did some great work on the nummulites from Egypt.
For the central chamber, with the sarcophagus of the pharaoh, lovely reddish-pink granite from Aswan was used. The granite helped to take the weight of this massive construction. The ancient Egyptians also used nummulite shells as coins. It is not surprising then that the name "Nummulites" is a diminutive form of the Latin nummulus meaning "little coin," a direct reference to their shape and usage.
|A Nummulite Protozoan Foraminiferan|
The papyrus is addressed to Ankh-haf, Khufu’s half-brother, and describes the undertaking of an expedition by a 200-man crew to the limestone quarries near Tura, on the eastern shore of the Nile. After loading the blocks onto their ship, the expedition indented to float down the river Nile for a successful delivery. They were then joined by another 100,000 slaves who had the unenviable task of unloading the 2-3 ton blocks of limestone built from nummulites, then pulling them across ramps to be dragged to the construction site.
It is amazing to have documentation from the 4th dynasty and poetic that this shipping order should be for materials, immortalized first as nummulites in the Eocene, excavated, carved and immortalized at Giza.
|Herodotus' Histories, Book VIII|
In his literary work Historiae, Book II, chapter 124–126, Herodotus writes: "As long as Rhámpsinîtos was king, as they told me, there was nothing but orderly rule in Egypt, and the land prospered greatly. But after him Khéops became king over them and brought them to every kind of suffering: He closed all the temples; after this he kept the priests from sacrificing there and then he forced all the Egyptians to work for him.
So some were ordered to draw stones from the stone quarries in the Arabian mountains to the Nile, and others he forced to receive the stones after they had been carried over the river in boats, and to draw them to those called the Libyan mountains. And they worked by 100,000 men at a time, for each three months continually. Of this oppression there passed ten years while the causeway was made by which they drew the stones, which causeway they built, and it is a work not much less, as it appears to me, than the pyramid.
For the length of it is 5 furlongs and the breadth 10 fathoms and the height, where it is highest, 8 fathoms, and it is made of polished stone and with figures carved upon it. For this, they said, 10 years were spent, and for the underground chambers on the hill upon which the pyramids stand, which he caused to be made as sepulchral chambers for himself in an island, having conducted thither a channel from the Nile."
It is estimated that 5.5 million tonnes of nummulites limestone, 8,000 tonnes of granite (imported from Aswan), and 500,000 tonnes of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. Built by an evil genius, yes, but stunning none-the-less. Unintentionally, it may have been one of the largest — and arguably cruellest — paleontological excavations ever attempted.
Photo of Fossil nummulites in Urbasa, Navarre by Theklan - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1125411
Photo: Nummulites from above and horizontally bisected by R A Lydekker - Life and Rocks, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3048471
Photo: Fragment from Herodotus' Histories, Book VIII on Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 2099, Early 2nd Century AD. Papyrology Rooms, Sackler Library, Oxford
References: Nummulite', Tiscali Dictionary of Animals, retrieved 17 August 2004
Hottinger, Lukas (2006-09-08). "Illustrated Glossary of terms used in foraminiferal research". Paleopolis. Retrieved 2018-11-11.
Reference: Lorraine Casazza, UCMP: https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/science/fieldnotes/casazza_0711.php
Fancy a visit to Cheops? Visit: 29°58′45″N 31°08′03″E
Sunday, 19 April 2020
Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in the northeast corner of Africa, whose territory in the Sinai Peninsula extends beyond the continental boundary with Asia.
Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip (Palestinian territories) and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean Sea lie Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, although none of these share a land border with Egypt.
Five hundred kilometres southwest of Cairo, the flat sabkha plain stretches in all directions covered by a small layer of dark, round pebbles. There are spectacular limestone pillars dotting the landscape of the wonderful karst topography. This land, once the breadbasket of Egypt and the stomping ground of the Pharaohs, is now ruled by pipelines and rusted-out trucks abandoned as wrecks marking the passage of time. Beneath the sand, rust and human history lie some very interesting geology. This rock has been sculpted both through erosion and at the hands of her craftsmen.
The rock here was formed when the Earth's crust was just beginning to cool, 4 to 2.5 billion years ago, during the Archaean. Other rock dates back to the Proterozoic when the Earth's atmosphere was just beginning to form. The oldest of these are found as inliers in Egypt’s Western Desert. The rocks making up the Eastern Desert are largely late Proterozoic in age, the time when bacteria and marine algae were the principal forms of life.
Throughout the country, this older basement is overlain by Palaeozoic sedimentary rocks. Cretaceous outcrops are common. We also find sediments that tell a story of repeated marine transgression and regressions, sea levels rising and falling, characteristic of the Cenozoic. It is from Egypt's Cenozoic geology that we get the limestones used for the great pyramids.
Friday, 17 April 2020
|Oligocene Fossil Whale Vertebrae, Olympic Peninsula|
Found amongst the beach pebbles on the Olympic Peninsula, they are definitely cetacean and very likely baleen as this area is home to some of the earliest baleen whales in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1993, a twenty-seven million-year-old specimen was discovered in deposits nearby that represents a new species of early baleen whale. It is especially interesting as it is from a stage in the group’s evolutionary history when baleen whales transitioned from having teeth to filtering food with baleen bristles. Visiting researcher Carlos Mauricio Peredo studied the fossil whale remains, publishing his research to solidify Sitsqwayk cornishorum (pronounced sits-quake) in the annals of history.
|Baby Gray Whale, Eschrichtius robustus, showing his baleen|
The baleen is the comb-like strainer that sits on the upper jaw of baleen whales and is used to filter food.
We have to ponder when this evolutionary change —moving from teeth to baleen — occurred and what factors might have caused it. Traditionally, we have sought answers about the evolution of baleen whales by turning to two extinct groups: the aetiocetids and the eomysticetids.
The aetiocetids are small baleen whales that still have teeth, but they are very small, and it remains uncertain whether or not they used their teeth. In contrast, the eomysticetids are about the size of an adult Minke Whale and seem to have been much more akin to modern baleen whales; though it’s not certain if they had baleen. Baleen typically does not preserve in the fossil record being soft tissue; generally, only hard tissue, bones & teeth, are fossilized.
Photo: Oligocene Fossil Whale vertebrae from Majestic Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, USA.
Thursday, 16 April 2020
|North Cascades National Park, Washington State, USA|
Washington is home to a wide variety of fossils—from new species of fossil crabs to marine mollusks and the fossil palm fronds that symbolize the Chuckanut formation.
We also find fossil whales, bird trackways, fossil sockeye salmon, mammal footprints, mammoth bones & the trace fossil remains of ancient rhino. In the time expanse in which we live our very short human lives, the Earth's crust appears permanent.
A fixed outer shell – terra firma. Aside from the rare event of an earthquake or the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in 1980, our world seems unchanging, the landscape constant. In fact, it has been on the move for billions of years and continues to shift each day. As the earth’s core began cooling, some 4.5 billion years ago, plates, small bits of continental crust, have become larger and smaller as they are swept up in or swept under their neighbouring plates. Large chunks of the ocean floor have been uplifted, shifted and now find themselves thousands of miles in the air, part of mountain chains far from the ocean today or carved by glacial ice into valleys and basins.
Two hundred million years ago, Washington was two large islands, bits of the continent on the move westward, eventually bumping up against the North American continent and calling it home. Even with their new fixed address, the shifting continues; the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically. The upthrusting of plates continue to move our mountain ranges skyward, the path of least resistance.
|Fossil Palm Front, Washington State|
The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi.
The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of this formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.
This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs, and plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle, and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America.
|Shore Bird Trackway, Washington State|
Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and riverways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.
Fossil mammals from Washington do get most of the press. The movement of these celebrity vertebrates captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the depositional environments favourable for track preservation.
The bone record is actually far less abundant than the plant record, except near shell middens, given the preserving qualities of calcium and an alkaline environment. While calcium-rich bones and teeth fossilize well, they often do not get laid down in a situation that makes this possible. Hence the terrestrial paleontological record of Washington State at sites like Chuckanut is primarily made up of plant material.
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
|Panopea abrupt (Conrad, 1894)|
This fossil specimen was collected from lower Miocene deposits in the Clallam Formation on the foreshore bordering the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula, northwestern Washington. The oldest recorded specimen of one of their modern relatives lived not too far from here in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That lovely was an impressive 168 years old.
A geoduck sucks water containing plankton down through its long siphon, filters this for food and ejects its refuse out through a separate hole in the siphon. Adult geoducks have few natural predators, which may also contribute to their longevity.
In Alaska, sea otters and dogfish have proved capable of dislodging geoducks; starfish also attack and feed on the exposed geoduck siphon.
Clallam Bay is a sleepy little town on the northwestern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. It was founded back in the 1880s as a steamboat stop and later served as a Mill town. If you are planning to visit the fossil exposures, head to the edge of town where it meets the sea.
Once at the water's edge, head east along the shore until you can go no further. You'll find marine fossils in the sandstone on the shore and cliffs. Mind the tide as access to the fossil site is only possible at low or mid-tide. You'll have to swim for it if you time it poorly. Clallam Bay: 48°15′17″N 124°15′30″W.
Near this site, there are many additional fossil localities to explore. In Sequim Bay, you can find Pleistocene vertebrates as well as Miocene cetacean bones near Slip Point. Near the Twin Post Office, you can find Oligocene nautiloids and bivalves (2.5km west in the bluff); You can find crabs including, Branchioplax in the Eocene limestone concretions from Neah Bay.
References: Addicott, Warren. Molluscan paleontology of the lower Miocene Clallam Formation, northwestern Washington, Geological Survey Paper 976.
Tuesday, 14 April 2020
|Vertipecten fucanus (Dall, 1898), Clallam Formation, WA|
These lovelies were collected on the foreshore near Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula, northwestern Washington on a lovely fossil field trip I did with my mother years ago.
Range zones of pectinid bivalves provide a principal means of age determination and correlation of shallow-water, inshore facies from California, through to Washington state and up to the head of the Gulf of Alaska.
Until Addicott's study from 1976, the area was considered middle Miocene. The new Lower Miocene designation can be credited in large part to the restricted stratigraphic range of Vertipecten fucanus (Dall, 1898) and the restricted and overlapping ranges of several other fossil mollusks collected from Alaska to California.
Neogene marine sediments of the West Coast of North America were deposited in a series of widely spaced basins that extended geographically from the western and northern Gulf of Alaska (60°N) to southern California (33°N). Rich molluscan faunas occur extensively throughout these deposits and form the basis for biostratigraphic schemes that are useful for correlating within and between individual basins.
|Arturia angustata nautiloid, Clallam Formation, WA|
Succeeding work increasingly dealt with the relationships of molluscan zones to benthic and, later, planktonic foraminiferal stages. In recent years the age limits of Neogene molluscan stages have become better documented by reference to planktonic microfossils from dated DSDP cores and onshore faunas. As our tools get better, our insight into these faunal groups and their correlation with their cousins to the south and over in the Pacific become clearer.
Neogene molluscan faunas from California, the Pacific Northwest states (Oregon and Washington), and southern Alaska have been treated separately due to differences in faunal composition and geographic isolation. As a result, a different biostratigraphic sequence has been described for each region.
Pacific Northwest stages have been formally named and defined. This naming structure is also used informally for Alaskan faunas. California Neogene stages were proposed early in this century, are in need of redescription, and their usage is informal. Precise correlations between the three regional sequences have not yet been achieved, due to the low number of co-occurring species and the general lack of planktonic microfossils in these largely shallow-water faunas. The objectives of ongoing research include the documentation of the faunas of California and Pacific Northwest stages; formal description of California stages; an improved correlation between regional stage sequences; refinement of age estimates for stage boundaries; and, the establishment of Neogene stages for Alaskan faunas.
Monday, 13 April 2020
Whether its the beach that draws you or the leisurely stroll through town, you have many options for your oceanside visit. Visit the local galleries, boutiques and cafes that make Qualicum feel like a European village or check out their famous garage sales for their many bargains.
The outdoor enthusiast will appreciate the long stretches of sandy beach, old-growth forests, nearby mountains with winter skiing and mild climate for year-round golf. A trip to Qualicum Beach is a bit like visiting a garden county in England, all hanging baskets and clipped lawns. There are many hidden treasures in the area.
You could take in the fresh air and hike the alpine trail leading to Mount Arrowsmith Lookout or follow gentle paths amongst the 850-year-old Douglas Firs at MacMillan Park’s Cathedral Grove.
There are fossils to be found... though not extracted from the park at Englishman River Falls or you could explore the Crystalline interior of the Horne Lake underground caves - an intriguing side trip just west of the town of Qualicum. Those in the know travel to these moist refuges to take in the quiet and walk in wonder and shadow with the help of one of the local guides.
No trip to Qualicum Beach is complete without a trip to the Qualicum Museum. Here you’ll see the life-time collection of Graham Beard, co-author of West Coast Fossils and Chair of the Vancouver Island Paleontological Museum Society. With his wife, Tina, a talented artist and fossil collector in her own right, he has been actively collecting fossils on Vancouver Island for over 30 years.
From the Departure Bay ferry terminal in Nanaimo, stay to your right and head up the hill and head north on the Island Hwy north. Take the Qualicum turn-off. The road heads straight through this picturesque little town, past quaint little coffee shops and continues to the seashore. To visit the Qualicum Museum, turn left onto Sunningdale just as you cross the railroad tracks. The museum is at the end of the street. They have a sweet interglacial walrus found in Qualicum and a nice selection of other local fossils.
Sunday, 12 April 2020
|Carved Volcanic Moai Statues of Easter Island|
It is one of the most isolated inhabited islands now famous for its rows of carved moai statues. These quiet sentinels were carved by the islands' first inhabitants.
Sometime around 1200 AD, people from Polynesia began to settle on the island. It looked much different back then. There were lovely forests on the island and those first settlers build a thriving community and culture. A series of unfortunate events devastated the island and the population. Rats, deforestation, the slave trade and finally disease took their toll. But those early settlers are not forgotten. For one of the world's most isolated islands, it is still visited today to visit their greatest legacies — 887 towering carved figures, moai, made from the islands' volcanic rock. They quarried and carved the rock then moved their sculptures to a platform on the water's edge where they are visited and revered to this day.
Thursday, 9 April 2020
Hornby is a glorious place to collect. The island is beautiful in its own right and the fossils from here often keep some of their original shell or nacre which makes them quite fetching.
This fellow is found amongst gastropods, shark teeth, fossil crabs, baculites and other bivalve fossils.
Like most of the fossils found at this locality, the specimen was found in concretions rolled smooth by time and tide. The concretions you find on the beach are generally round or oval in shape and are made up of hard, compacted sedimentary rock. If you are lucky, when you split them you see a fossil hidden within. The main topographic feature on Hornby Island is an arcuate mountain consisting of the resistant cliff-forming Geoffrey formation.
Behind the mountain and almost enclosed by it is the fertile, green Strachan Valley. On the large peninsula which extends in a southeast direction from the north of the island towards St. John’s Point, the Hornby Formation outcrops forming the cliffs on the east side of Tribune Bay. The highest of these is about 200 feet. The argillaceous Lambert and Spray formations form the subdued lowlands of the island.
The coast of Hornby is probably a rising shoreline, as indicated by the almost perpendicular cliffs along its periphery. A hundred (100) foot cliffs of Lambert shale extends from Shingle Spit to Phipps Point, while from the latter to Boulder Point, the cliffs are not as steep and are covered in many places by vegetation.
Saturday, 4 April 2020
Today, the Bearpaw Formation, also called the Bearpaw Shale, is a geologic formation of Late Cretaceous (Campanian) age. It outcrops in the U.S. state of Montana, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and was named for the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana. It includes a wide range of marine fossils, as well as the remains of a few dinosaurs. It is known for its fossil ammonites, some of which are mined in Alberta to produce the organic gemstone ammolite.
It was home to many marine reptiles, ammonites, fishes, and other aquatic life. Elasmosaurs —long-necked plesiosaurs — were one group of marine reptiles that inhabited our ancient oceans.
They were primarily fish eaters, and used their long necks to strike at fish, then trapped them in their interlocking teeth. A new genus and species of elasmosaur, Albertonectes vanderveldei, was uncovered in 2007 during routine ammonite shell mining.
Albertonectes has 76 neck vertebrae, the most of any animal known — compare this to giraffes that only have seven neck vertebrae. Albertonectes had a neck that was 6.5 metres long. Was it flexible and able to bend sharply and quickly? Or was it stiff, with a gentle arc that could cover a large area? Paleontologists used computer modelling to study the neck’s flexibility. The neck broke into four segments when it collapsed on the seafloor.
More on this impressive find:
Photo: Roland Tanglao from Vancouver, Canada - 5d-dinosaur-camp-day2-20120802-64.jpgUploaded by FunkMonk, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20902049