Archive for December, 2016

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Geological Magic Lantern Slides from the 19th Century (Part III)

December 16th, 2016

18-devonion-period[Note: Wooster’s Fossil of the Week is on holiday until January 2017.]

This is the last post illustrating the 19th Century Magic Lantern Slides recently found in Scovel Hall of Wooster’s Geology Department. Please see the December 2 post and the week before for details. To review, these slides are 4×8 inches with the image fixed on glass bolted into a thin slab of wood with metal rings. They are chromolithograph slides, each stamped “T.H. McAllister, Optician, N.Y.”. McAllister was the most prominent of many American producers of lantern slides in the late 19th century.

This last set of slides in our collection was apparently used in our old “Historical Geology” courses to evoke the geological time periods. The top image is simply labeled “Devonian“. The trees on the right appear to be towering lycopods, a kind of seedless vascular plant. They were common in the Devonian and are still around today. I can’t tell what the other plants are in the image. The rapid rise of large plants in the Middle Devonian has been called the “Devonian Explosion”. These early forests had significant effects on atmospheric composition, soil formation, erosion, and sediment transport.

[UPDATE: Please see the excellent comments by Ben Creisler. He has given us much new information and numerous links explaining the history of these images. I’ve left my amateur text in place only to record the original post! MW]

19-carboniferous-periodCarboniferous” is the title of this slide. It is dramatic, seemingly showing a Carboniferous forest dominated by ferns being torn apart by a swelling tide. Could this be a comment on the interbedding of marine and terrestrial rock units so common in the Upper Carboniferous of North America?

20-permian-periodFerns are again in the foreground of this Permian scene. I have no explanation for the mountainous seashore landscape, except that the red color of the rocks may represent the New Red Sandstone of Great Britain.

21-transition-periodThis slide is enigmatically labeled “Transition Period”. I suspect it represents the Triassic, a period just after the Permian and thus part of the transition into the Mesozoic. The shrubby plants in the foreground appear to be cycads with massive yellow cones emerging from their tops.

22-eeocen-periodThis image of the “Eocene” is the first of these period slides to depict animals (the herd of ungulates across the river and the bird in the foreground). This may mean these slides were meant to show the progression of plant life over geological time. The forests here look dominated by conifers and angiosperms.

23-miocene-periodThis is a “Miocene” image. I don’t know how I’d distinguish it from the Eocene view above.

24-drift-periodOur final slide shows what the “Drift Period”, which is clearly the Pleistocene. Not only do we have cave bears in the foreground and a herd of bison in the river, there seems to be a massive pile of ice in the left rear!

I have not discovered the artist responsible for these illustrations. If you know, please tell me in the comments!

[UPDATE: Please see excellent information and links by Ben Creisler in the comments below. Thanks, Ben!]


Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Ordovician bioerosion trace fossils

December 9th, 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-2-06-03-pmThis week’s post is a celebration of the appearance of a remarkable two-volume work on trace fossils and evolution. The editors and major authors are my friends Gabriela Mángano and Luis Buatois (University of Saskatchewan). They are extraordinary geologists, paleontologists and ichnologists (specialists on trace fossils). They led this massive effort of multiple authors and thousands of manuscript pages. Turns out they are inspiring scientific leaders as well as sharp-eyed editors.

My contribution is in the first volume within a chapter (co-authored with Gabriela, Luis, and Mary Droser of the University of California, Riverside) entitled “The Great Ordovician Biodiversification event”. We examine here the relationship between trace fossils and the critical evolution of marine communities through the Ordovician. My main responsibility was sorting out the changes in the bioeroders over the course of the period. Way back in 2001, Tim Palmer and I noticed a rise in bioerosion trace fossil diversity and abundance in the Middle and Late Ordovician. We grandly called it the “Ordovician Bioerosion Revolution”. The concept and name stuck.

The top image is Fig. 4.8 from the book. The caption: Upper Ordovician bioerosion structures. (a) Trypanites weisi (cross-sectional view) in a carbonate hardground. Katian, Grant Lake Limestone, near Washington, Kentucky, USA; (b) Trypanites weisi (bedding-plane view) in a carbonate hardground. Katian, Grant Lake Limestone, near Manchester, Ohio, USA; (c) Palaeosabella isp. in a trepostome bryozoan. Katian, Whitewater Formation, near Richmond, Indiana, USA; (d) Petroxestes pera. Katian, Whitewater Formation, Caesar Creek Lake emergency spillway, near Waynesville, Ohio, USA; (e) Ropalonaria venosa in a strophomenid brachiopod. Katian, Liberty Formation near Brookville, Indiana, USA.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-2-08-42-pmThe cover of the book, which is described here on the publisher’s website.


Mángano, G., Buatois, L., Wilson, M.A. and Droser, M. 2016. The Great Ordovician Biodiversification event, p. 127-156. In: Mángano, G. and Buatois, L. (eds.), The trace-fossil record of major evolutionary events. Topics in Geobiology 39 (Springer).

Wilson, M..A. and Palmer, T.J. 2001. The Ordovician Bioerosion Revolution. Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Boston, Paper No. 104-0. November 7, 2001.

Wilson, M.A. and Palmer, T.J. 2006. Patterns and processes in the Ordovician Bioerosion Revolution. Ichnos 13: 109-112.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Geological Magic Lantern Slides from the 19th Century (Part II)

December 2nd, 2016

12-iguanodon-and-a-hyleosaurusThis is a continuation of last week’s post about a set of 19th century “Magic Lantern Slides” found in Scovel Hall at Wooster. These evocative scenes are taken from reconstructions of ancient life by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894). In 1855, Waterhouse Hawkins finished sculpting life-sized models of these extinct animals, along with many others, for the Crystal Palace gardens in London. Most of these extraordinary animal statues still exist.

Above is the Waterhouse Hawkins version of the Early Cretaceous dinosaurs Iguanodon (the critter on top) and Hylaeosaurus (the two on the lower level). These two genera, along with Megalosaurus, were used as the basis for the new Dinosauria erected by Sir Richard Owen in 1842, a mere dozen years before these models were created. Both of these dinosaurs were herbivorous, Iguanodon being an ornithopod and Hylaeosaurus a basal ankylosaur. They are said here to be from “the Secondary Epoch of the Earth’s history”.

13-an-iguanodon-and-a-hyleosaurus-by-benjamin-waterhouse-hawkins-1853A print version of the same scene. Modern reconstructions of these animals are dramatically different, of course. Waterhouse Hawkins was advised by Owen to make these versions as mammalian as possible. The stance and articulation of limbs is the largest change in our conception of these genera. The Iguanodon model is where a famous 1853 New Year’s Eve dinner party was held.

14-megatherium-glyptodonThis next slide is another Waterhouse Hawkins creation of a much later scene. These are reconstructions of the South American ground sloth Megatherium, which lived from the Pliocene through the Pleistocene. Aside from some unnecessary bulk, these reconstructions are not too far off from how we conceive the giant ground sloths today.

16-no-labelThis magic lantern slide from Wooster’s collection is unlabeled, and I’ve found no trace of the image online. The scene has a Mesozoic vibe, with a crinoid, ammonites (or nautiloids?), and a lurking reptile. Any identifying information would be appreciated!

17-anoplotherium-gracile-palaeotheriumAnother Waterhouse Hawkins theme, this time of Eocene ungulates. The label says they are Paleotherium (in the right foreground) and Anoplotherium gracile (on the left in the foreground). Both were originally described from the Paris region by the magnificent Georges Cuvier.

9-benjamin_waterhouse_hawkins-_photograph_by_maull__polyblankBenjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was a Londoner skilled in natural history and art. His lifetime honors are a clue to his abilities: He was a Member of the Society of Arts, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. His Crystal Palace dinosaurs are his best know combination of art and science, but he produced much besides. For example, he drew figures for The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle. In 1868 he mounted a skeleton of Hadrosaurus in Philadelphia, the first dinosaur to be displayed in this way. Through his art and connections in the paleontological world, Waterhouse Hawkins brought fossils to life for millions of people in Victorian times.