Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fossils--sixth in a series of the eight natural wonders of the Red Hills

     "The work of a lifetime lies within the hills surrounding the valley...Fortunate will he be who in this region devotes himself to the task of learning nature's secrets." C. N. Gould.  Thus was the pronouncement of  Gould in an article published in the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science in 1898 about the area of the Red Hills in southeast Kiowa County. Yes, well over a hundred years ago, paleontologists were well aware of and deeply entrenched in prospecting for fossils in the Red Hills. While the Niobrara Chalk of western Kansas is much better known for its rich and more famous fossils brought to the world stage by members of the Sternberg family, the older geologic layers in portions of the Red Hills yield great paleontological bounty. 
     A hundred million years ago, this area of the central Great Plains was covered by the Western Interior Sea. Areas which show the dark Kiowa shale at the lower portion of these Cretaceous age deposits were part of the relatively shallow part of this ocean. Thus, the layers of rocks and shale are rich in invertebrate fossils indicative of shallower waters. This testimony is presented by many clam, snail and oyster species found encased or loose in various formations. However, occasionally some vertebrates such as turtles, alligators, sharks and plesiosaurs show up. Plant and insect impressions have also been noted for the region. (During intermediate times when dry land existed between oceans.) While this rich natural history is ancient, it is significant enough to garner a spot among the Red Hills top eight natural wonders. Some of the amazing fascinations of this land of enchantment are revealed in subtle ways, hidden in the rocks and sediments from eons of time gone by to be discovered by current day naturalists.
A vertebrae once sported by a plesiousaur in the Western Interior Sea
was preserved only to be found by a very lucky amateur geologist
around a hundred million years after the animal suffered its demise.

Plesiosaurs similar to this depiction roamed the Western Interior Sea
throughout the Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic. They are among

a number of reptilian sea monsters of the day.
Dr. Reese Barrick, Director of the Sternberg Museum, Hays, Kansas
along with Mike Everhart, Adjunct Paleontologist and Curator
for the Sternberg Museum, poke around the Kiowa Shale of the Red Hills.

Ammonites are extinct mollusks which were very prominent in the
Mesozoic seas. See the picture below but think modern day Nautilus.

Similar to our modern day Nautilus, ammonites
were varied and very numerous in ancient times.

Typically, only impressions of the ammonite shells
are found either embedded in rock or sometimes unassociated.

Occasionally, fish fossils such as the vertebrae in the upper part of
this conglomerate are found.

Fossil wood such as this ancient tree stump are
seen in some spots. Other plant parts, such as leaves
have been noted in some of these older Cretaceous layers.

This specimen perhaps was from an older time, the Permian.

    An occasional shark's tooth (see inset) can be found
either loosely but
  also often embedded in a conglomerate of
rock with fossil invertebrates.

Oysters were common in the ancient sea of the Red Hills.
This one is known as the "Devils Toe."

Clams, also a bivalve similar to oysters, are found
in the fossilized muds from the ancient sea.

Locals call this "Shell Rock" for obvious reasons. Some layers in Kiowa Shale
are made up of solid masses of shells of oysters, clams and snails. This conveys
clear evidence of the tremendous populations of these animals in the shallows
of these old waters.

For some more amazing pictures, accounts and information about Cretaceous fossils in Kansas, see Mike Everhart's incredible website: