Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Trip to Nebraska & Interesting Fossil Finds

For those of you who follow this blog, I posted previously that one of my goals this summer was to travel to southeastern Nebraska and visit my grandparents and other family members that still live there.  I haven't been back for a long, long time and it was great to go back.  My grandmother was turning 85 and we had a nice birthday party for her.  Here is a picture of my cute grandma:

 Flying over eastern Colorado and Nebraska is not as exciting as flying over the Grand Canyon or even Sedona, Arizona, but it is interesting, however.  I always find it amazing how much land is farmed in this country.  There are fields as far as you can see as you fly over in an airplane.  Here is an aerial shot from my plane:

Family members on both sides of my family are connected in some way to family farms.  The farm on my dad's side has been sold, but my father's brother still lives on a piece of that land in Clatonia, Nebraska.  My mother's family still owns a farm that has been in our family for well over 100 years.  Her brother still farms that land in Wilber, Nebraska.  Here is a picture of the farm at sunset:

My uncle has found some pretty interesting things on his land, geologically speaking.  I never thought about Nebraska's geology that much, I'll admit.  I did all of my undergraduate work in the southwest, both geology and anthropology.  I did my masters through Mississippi State University but my field school was in Arizona.  I know Arizona's and New Mexico's geology like the back of my hand, and you must admit we have some fine geology here. 

  My grandmother and I were walking around her yard and I noticed a rock with many shells in it.  When I questioned her about where it came from my grandpa remembered it came from the farm. He was unsure why they were digging at the time the rock was found but he said there were so many you could have filled a truck with them.  Here is a picture of the rock:

 I knew it was a marine bivalve but I guess there was too much going on to think about it further.  If I had, I probably would have remembered that Nebraska hasn't had an ocean over it in a long, long time.  I started digging around about the geology of Nebraska when I got home.  It turns out that Nebraska hides it's geology under crops and farmland.  There aren't any Grand Canyons in Nebraska but there is an overwhelming amount of fossils there.  In fact, over one-third of the fossils in the Smithsonian's Hall of Mammals is from Nebraska!  It just so happens that the right aged rocks are exposed at the surface.  Our family farm rests on Cretaceous aged rock.  The fossils found there are marine because an ancient sea had transgressed over this area.  The end of the Cretaceous was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and many other animals died out!  That means that rock with the fossil pelecypod shells is very old indeed.  Here is a webpage that shows which rocks are exposed in Nebraska:

It also shows a geology time scale.  If you want to see the dates for the time periods you can click "show" by the dates. 

My uncle also has land near Fairbury, NE.  Fairbury has even older  rocks exposed and fossil leaves are often found there.  This is a site that shows this area and the rocks and fossils found near Fairbury you can click on the map and fossils for information:

Some of the leaf fossils in this area are probably near 100 million years old because they are found in the Cretaceous Dakota Formation.  That means the rocks with leaf fossils in them that my family has found on this land is incredibly old and very interesting to me.

There are also many Cenozoic fossils in Nebraska.  Mammoth and mastodon fossils have been found in 90 of 93 counties in this state.  I know more about invertebrate fossils than I do vertebrates but I would venture to guess that the bison skull my uncle found on his ranch is probably much older than a modern bison:

I am looking forward to going back to Nebraska, this time with my rock hammer, and really doing some fossil hunting!


Amy (aka Science Stuff) said...

Love the fossil of the bivalves!! We have found similar ones in northern Mississippi!

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