Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ancient Plant Geekery

For Christmas I got a bag of rocks. But not just any rocks, these were special rocks. From the Florissant  Fossil Quarry in Colorado.

And these rocks were guaranteed to have fossils in them.

And they did!

Like this leaf.

This tiny leaf.

Most of the fossils were tiny, the largest being this leaf.

All of the identifiable fossils we found were of plants. Mostly leaves like this fragment showing leaf structure.

Or this almost complete leaf.

Are these grass leaves? Or are they stems?

But there were others like this one that weren't just leaves.

And its mirror image.

The rocks were a very crumbly type of paper shale with thin layers that we split to unveil the fossils within. Thus the mirror images.

Here I am working on exposing the "big leaf" shown above.

Image courtesy Patty Rehn

I've got an X-Acto knife that I used to pry the shale apart and to scrape away rock matrix to expose the detail. But it wasn't all that easy, and at the lower right of the above image is a thicker chunk of rock we used a hammer and chisel on.

One of the coolest fossils was this one.

It appears to be the reproductive parts of a flower, the stamens, pistil, and ovary. It is very tiny.

I first learned of the Florissant Fossil Quarry in Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll's excellent book, Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway, and museum exhibit of the same name, which I got to see when it visited the Academy of Natural Sciences here in Philadelphia. Johnson is a paleontologist, whose specialty is ancient plant life, and Troll is an artist.

The Quarry is a comercial operation where anyone can go and try their luck at fossil hunting. It is not be be confused with the nearby Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, home to petrified sequoia trees.

I forget why, but I had shared the book with Patty. And we had added the Quarry to our list of places to visit. This was in September. I had put the book back on the shelf. It seems Patty pulled it back off and used it to find the contact info for the Quarry. The folks there were happy to send out the rocks that made for one very cool Christmas gift.

The complete set of fossil images, with and without the dime for scale, can be found in my SmugMug gallery.

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