Sunday, March 11, 2007

Zoo-what-ckus?

Sometimes things just work out. Sometimes, things only work out after they don't work out. I went on a search for a fossil site I had learned about with the hopes of taking a class trip there. Instead, I found beautiful scenery tagged with "No trespassing" signs and unfurled Confederate flags blowing in the breeze. But on the way I found Plan B- a roadside outcropping of rock that looked pretty good as I drove by at 55 mph in the dark.

The drive out with the class was one of nervous trepidation - what in the world was I really taking them to see? Had there been anything truly noteworthy there to show the class once we got there? The miles ticked by.

It turned out to be quite a nifty geospot. I'll show a couple highlights below:

My personal favorite. Notice the fan-like patterns in the middle of the photo:

Here's a closeup:


This is a fossilized feeding structure known as Zoophycus. It is produced by a type of worm-like organisims that "mines" fine-grained sediments for nutrients. It is characterized by concave-upward traces with whorled peaks and fans out across a plane horiziontal to somewhat oblique to bedding. Preservation of these types of feeding structures began approximately 500 million years ago and are found in deposits on the modern sea floor today. This type of feeding trace is common in reduced (anoxic) environments.

We took a few slabs that were chock full of Zoophycus, but didn't get any picts of those. I displayed effusive excitment that either inspired my students to appreciate the mysteries you can unlock through intimate knowledge of sedimentary geology, or I convinced them I was a total weirdo, albeit an amusing wierdo. My early conclusion is that either case can lead to effective teaching, as long as you snag their attention one way or another. I can update on my tests of this theory later on.

Another exciting find came through the hard-bodied fossils we saw:


A student went hog-wild when we came across a bed loaded with these bivalve fossils. He spent most of the time excavating this bed for samples, and worked up quite a sweat beating the crap out of the outcrop with a hammer. These are quite well preserved and look MAH-velous for their age (300 million years old or so). I have a paper that goes through the paleontology of the unit we were looking at and I plan to shamelessly exploit this students excitment by having him sort some of these out and get names on them. I'll update once he gets that done!

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