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Meridian's Red Hot fossil spot
Meridian's Red Hot fossil spot
February 10, 2008
By Jennifer Jacob / staff writer
- Meridian's Red Hot fossil spot
When construction began on the North Frontage Road Super Wal-Mart back in 2000, contractors and developers weren't the only ones paying attention. Paleontologists who had been interested in the site since the late 1980s took advantage of the construction, unearthing some interesting and significant fossils in what is known in the world of paleontology as the Red Hot Truck Stop locality, so named for the eatery that was torn down to make way for the Wal-Mart.
Fossils can be found in more places than one might think, according to Southern Methodist University graduate student Daniel Danehy, who recently published a paper on the Red Hot locality in the online journal Palaeontologia Electronica. But what makes the fossils unearthed at the Red Hot significant is the ability to accurately date them.
The leaf layer of fossils that interests scientists is located in between two oth er layers of fossils for which the dates are well-known. Since the leaf layer is in between the other two layers physically, it stands to reason that it's also in between the others on the timeline. Danehy said the fossils are from the early Eocene period — around 54 million years ago. During this time there was a short (geologically speaking), intense period of global warming for about 10,000 years. It's this period of global warming that makes the fossil featured in Danehy's paper significant.
The fossil is one of a leaf, the Rhabdophyllites diapryros. While the latter part of the name looks kind of like 'diaper,' it actually means 'fiery-hot' — a name given to denote the Red Hot, and it is known as the Red Hot leaf flora. What makes this fossil interesting is what it can tell us about the time period in which the plant was alive. The fossil is of a tropical plant, which, Danehy says, suggests that the Gulf Coast was a tropical eco-system at that time.
Danehy said the Red Hot locality has been a subject of interest since the late 80s, when there was a large dig at the site that brought National Geographic magazine to our area. It is heavily studied, he said, and may still bear more clues about our natural history that have yet to be discovered.
So next time you visit Super Wal-Mart, think of the millions of years worth of fossils beneath the ground on which you stand, and imagine the tropical estuary that may once have been there, rich with life the likes of which you're not likely to find in a Wal-Mart.
Here are the answers to some basic questions on paleontology. Learn more of the basics of the science by visiting the University of California Museum of Paleontology Web site at www.ucmp.berkeley.edu.
- What is paleontology?
Paleontology, Greek for "knowledge of ancient life," is defined by the UCMP as the study of fossils. "Paleontologists study fossils and attempt to use them to reconstruct the history of the Earth and the life on it."
- How does paleontology differ from anthropology and archaeology?
Archaeologists deal mainly with human artifacts and remains. Anthropologists work with human artifacts and remains as well, but their focus is on society - cultures, languages, and the like. Paleontologists do not usually work with human artifacts and remains. Paleontology is a branch of geology concerned with the biological history of the earth - everything from bacteria, to mammals, to plants - dating back hundreds of millions of years. Paleontologists are often confused with archaeologists and anthropologists because they all dig for ancient buried clues about history - but paleontologists study the history of life, while archaeologists and anthropologists study human history.
- What is relative dating?
No, it's not the precursor to inbreeding. Relative dating is defined by the University of Californ ia Paleontological Museum as, "arising from the observation that different layers of sedimentary rock contain different fossils, and that this sequence can be recognized in other rocks at other localities, even those far away. This allows fossil-bearing rocks to be dated relatively."
Basically, this means that fossils can be dated based on the materials surrounding them, if there is a pre-existing knowledge of the date range for the surrounding materials. In the case of the Red Hot flora, rather than dating the fossil based on it's own sedimentary layer, the fossil was dated based on the knowledge of date ranges for the fossils layers immediately above and below it.
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