Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A mastodon tooth (Late Pleistocene of Holmes County, Ohio)

March 20th, 2011


Time for a vertebrate fossil from the College of Wooster paleontology collections.  Above is a side view of an American Mastodon tooth (Mammut americanum) from the Pleistocene of the county just south of us. It has been passed around through hundreds of student hands in our geology classes to demonstrate basic features of these large animals and their dietary habits. The image below shows their characteristic cusped chewing surface.


Mastodons looked like elephants but are actually in a separate family (Mammutidae instead of Proboscidea). They browsed diverse vegetation rather than grazed like elephants and mammoths. The American Mastodon roamed most of North America. They lived in herds in the cool woodlands, probably meeting final extinction under the spears of Paleo-Indians about 10,000 years ago.

My favorite reproduction of the American Mastodon is shown below. It is by the famous scientific illustrator Charles R. Knight (1874-1953). There is something very spirited as this young male charges into the scene. It even looks a bit like northeastern Ohio.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A sweet local scallop (Lower Carboniferous of Wooster)

March 13th, 2011

The delicious scallop has a long, long history. Wooster’s variety, known as Aviculopecten subcardiformis, is about 345 million years old. The beauty above was found in the Logan Formation, a conglomeratic sandstone that underlies much of the city, including the college. This particular fossil is preserved as an external mold, meaning the shell is dissolved away and only an impression remains in the surrounding sediment. Note that this preservation is still so good that we can count all the ribs and even growth lines.

Scallops are characterized by a nearly-symmetrical shell. They have extensions along the hingeline (at the top of the image) that are commonly called “ears” and technically termed auricles. They have one large muscle (adductor) used to close the shell. It is relatively large and the part of the clam we find so tasty.

Pecten jacobaeus from the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo courtesy of Andreas Tille of en.wikipedia.)

Many modern scallops use that large adductor muscle to clap the valves together when they are threatened, enabling them to swim short distances. As an early warning system to detect predators (including us, I suppose), they have rows of tiny eyes in the soft tissue around the edge of the shell (see below).

The eyes of this living scallop are the small bluish spheres along the edge of the mantle.

We can’t tell if our ancient scallop was able to see its enemies and swim away. It does, though, take us back to a time when a warm shallow sea covered our little patch of Ohio.

Theory to Practice on Ice

February 1st, 2011

A group from the Wooster community, the University of Cincinnati, The College of Wooster and St. Lawrence University assembled in Wooster for the weekend to mount an expedition to recover many meters of lake mud from the bottom of Round and Long Lakes in Ashland County, Ohio.



Dr. Lowell goes over the theory.

The practice consists of extracting meters of mud from the lake bottom.

Steph takes the vital notes on each meter (left). Lindsey (right) steps up to core another hole in the 6 inch-thick ice.

After a day coring Round Lake the team moved onto Long Lake and targeted the upper several meters of sediment to be analyzed by Jon Theisen for his senior IS in Archaeology. Jon hopes to shed some light on the environmental changes that occurred approximately 1500 years ago during the end of the Hopewell era in Ohio.

Dr. Stan Totten (’58) receives a Hall of Fame award from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources

January 25th, 2011

Ston Totten (on the left) receiving the Hall of Fame award last month (image from the ODNR website).

Wooster has always been proud of its distinguished alumnus Stan Totten (’58), a retired professor of geology at Hanover College. We are now pleased to see that the state of Ohio has recognized him for his many contributions to understanding Ohio’s geology, from checking topographic maps in his early days to producing his own glacial geology and soil maps. He even provided geological expertise for the construction of Interstates 71 and 77. This nice citation from the ODNR describes Stan’s career in more detail, and as a special touch there is an embedded video of his acceptance comments.

Well done, Stan. We should mention that Stan is also in the Hanover College Athletic Hall of Fame. And in the Wayne County Sports Hall of Fame!

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: The tabulate coral Aulopora (Devonian of northwestern Ohio)

January 2nd, 2011

We’re going to start 2011 with a new blog feature: Fossil of the Week! My colleagues, of course, are welcome to also start “Mineral of the Week”, “Structural Geologic Feature of the Week”, or “Climate Event of the Week”.  The more the better to keep our blog active through the winter!


This week’s fossil was collected by Brian Bade of Sullivan, Ohio, and donated to Wooster as part of my hederelloid project.  It is a beautiful specimen of the tabulate coral Aulopora encrusting a brachiopod valve from the Silica Shale (Middle Devonian — about 390 million years old) of northwestern Ohio.  Auloporid corals are characterized by an encrusting habit, a bifurcating growth pattern, and horn-shaped corallites (individual skeletal containers for the polyps).

What is especially nice about this specimen is that we are looking at a well preserved colony origin.  The corallite marked with the yellow “P” is the protocorallite — the first corallite from which all the others are derived.  You can see that two corallites bud out from the protocorallite 180° from each other.  These two corallites in turn each bud two corallites, but at about 160°.  This pattern continues as the colony develops (a process called astogeny).  The angles of budding begin to vary depending on local obstacles; they never again go below 160°.

The polyps inside the corallites are presumed to have been like other colonial coral polyps.  Each would have had tentacles surrounding a central opening, and all were connecting by soft tissue within the skeleton.  They likely fed on zooplankton in the surrounding seawater.  This type of coral went extinct in the Permian, roughly 260 million years ago.

Again, we thank our amateur geologist friends for such useful donations to the research and educational collections in the Geology Department at Wooster.

Hederelloids: Pulled from obscurity! (Well, maybe …)

September 11th, 2010

PARMA, OHIO–This afternoon I gave a talk at a meeting of the North Coast Fossil Club in this suburb of Cleveland. I chose the poorly-known fossil group called hederelloids as my topic because I knew that many people in that enthusiastic group had likely seen and collected them without knowing. They are very common encrusters on Devonian fossils, especially brachiopods, corals and bryozoans from the Middle Devonian of northwestern Ohio. I was not disappointed as several keen members brought me specimens from their collections or told me about large numbers of hederelloids they can send to me for study. Paul Taylor and I have been studying hederelloids for the past five years (as far as I know we are the only paleontologists in this little subfield!) and believe they may hold a key to some curious events in the Devonian and may expand what we know about lophophorate evolution. We need many more specimens, though, for our systematic work. The hard-working, knowledgeable amateur paleontologists in the North Coast Fossil Club are now going to help! Here is a link to the PowerPoint slides of my hederelloid talk. If you just have to know more, here’s a 2008 Taylor and Wilson hederelloid paper as a pdf.

I very much enjoyed talking with members of this club. They love fossils for their beauty, complexity, and historical wonder. To be able to contribute to science is a bonus.

Coring Odell Lake

July 9th, 2010

Odell Lake in the early morning hours.

The dedicated team of Wooster Geologists, Sarah Appleton, Stephanie Jarvis, and Dr. Greg Wiles met up with the sleep deprived team of Geologists from The University of Cincinnati, Bill Honsaker, Gianna Evans, and Dr. Tom Lowell. The goal of day one was to field test equipment destined for a trip to Greenland, acquire lake cores for the Climate Change class at The College of Wooster and map the lake using geophysics, a branch of earth science dealing with the physical processes and phenomena occurring especially in the earth and in its vicinity.

Odell Lake is located in Holmes County, Ohio and is a natural lake that was formed by a glacier. Portions of the glacier broke off and melted forming a kettle lake. In the case of Odell Lake three pieces of a glacier broke off during the termination of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago, and melted. As a result Odell Lake has three basins. The first basin is the largest but also the shallowest, the second basin is smaller and deeper and the westernmost basin is the smallest and deepest attaining almost 30 feet in depth.

Our first day began early in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat of the day. Once we arrived at the lake we began to unload our supplies. Most of our equipment came “some assembly required”.

A whole new meaning to some assembly required.

After several hours of assembling the necessary tools and equipment we were ready to divvy up jobs. Sarah and Gianna were assigned to the geophysics boat. Gianna was the geophysics specialist and Sarah was the boat driver (Gianna was a brave soul because this was Sarah’s first time driving this type of boat). Stephanie, Dr. Wiles, Bill, and Dr. Lowell boarded the coring vessel for her maiden voyage.

Sarah is learning to drive the boat and Gianna is ready, just in case, with the paddle.

Sarah and Gianna began crossing the lake mapping the depth and using sonar to determine the stratigraphy under the bottom of the lake. The wind was blowing pretty strongly and it caused a problem when the pair attempted to map the shallower water. The boat-mounted shade tent, as it turned out, made a terrific sail and the boat was blown aground. After some delicate maneuvering and dismantling the “sail” the team was back on track.

The geophysics team (Sarah and Gianna) deciding their next move.

The coring vessel was paddled out into the deeper water. It was a slow going process. Once the coring team was near to the location Sarah and Gianna were flagged down to identify the deepest part of the second basin. After assisting the coring raft the geophysics team returned to mapping. 

Onboard the coring raft the team worked diligently to test the equipment. At the end of the day they had a good set of cores and the geophysics team towed in the raft to save a lot of paddling.

Posing for a picture during a break.

After a hard day’s work the group went out for ice cream in the lovely town of Shreve. Over ice cream the team made plans for the next day.

Day Two:

Another early start to beat the heat with less assembly required than the previous day. The first task was to untangle the mass of ropes and anchors that held the raft in place during coring. It was decided that burlap sacks of rocks for anchors would be needed for Greenland. The raft was towed out to the third and deepest basin for coring. Once the raft was in place and firmly anchored the team went to work using two different types of coring methods.

The coring team (Dr. Wiles, Dr. Lowell, Stephanie, and Bill) hard at work.

Meanwhile, in the geophysics boat, Sarah and Gianna switched places. Gianna was captaining the ship while Sarah was learning to use the sonar and computer programs. Gianna was excellent about teaching Sarah to use the equipment and answering her endless questions.

Stephanie awaiting the core hand off so she can wrap it up for transport back to the Sediment Core Analysis Lab.

Both groups worked until they heard thunder. Sarah and Gianna moved back to the third basin to tow in the raft. Fortunately the first thunderstorm missed the lake. The group arrived safely on shore and began to disassemble the equipment and reload the trucks and trailer. When the group was nearly done a torrential downpour ensued causing the group to scamper for cover in the cars and trailer, where they received the sever thunderstorm warning for the area. The down pour only lasted for a few minutes before the team was back to work with a renewed vigor to beat the next storm which they were sure was right behind the first one. Once the equipment was packed away and tied down the team headed for some much deserved ice cream.

Wooster Geologist in Ohio!

December 16th, 2009

CAESAR CREEK STATE PARK, OHIO–I’ve definitely extended my field season as far as possible.  (And what a season it has been.)  My last fieldwork at the end of this research leave was in Ohio, about three hours south of Wooster.  I visited Caesar Creek State Park this morning where a large cut through an Upper Ordovician section has been set aside as a fossil preserve of sorts.  It is an emergency spillway for Caesar Creek Lake, which is maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Many Wooster paleontology field trips have stopped here.  Fossils can be collected, but only with a permit (obtained at the visitor center) and following significant regulations.  The fossils are diverse and abundant, including all the stars of the Ordovician seafloor.

My task was to find, photograph and measure an old trace fossil friend: the boring Petroxestes pera.  This is a slot-shaped excavation in carbonate hard substrates formed by bivalves (probably in this case the modiomorphid Corallidomus).

The boring Petroxestes pera (the name means "purse-shaped rock-grinding") in a hardground at Caesar Creek State Park.

The boring Petroxestes pera (the name means "purse-shaped rock-grinding") in a hardground at Caesar Creek State Park.

These elongated holes are among the first bivalve borings.  Some of my students and I think they may have been formed in clusters, and they also may be oriented relative to each other and their local environment.  In any case, I found plenty.  It was an astonishingly cold morning, though, so I didn’t waste any time on the outcrop!

Yes, this photo is here mainly to show just how tough Wooster Geologists are.  And there are some very nice brachiopods and bryozoans!

Yes, this photo is here mainly to show just how tough Wooster Geologists are. And there are some very nice brachiopods and bryozoans!

You know that your field season is over …

December 16th, 2009

... when your car is well frosted.

... when your car is well frosted.

... and your outcrop looks like this!  (Whitewater Formation, emergency spillway at Caesar Creek State Park, Ohio; N39.47808°, W84.05981°)

... and your outcrop looks like this! (Whitewater Formation, Upper Ordovician, emergency spillway at Caesar Creek State Park, Ohio; N39.47808°, W84.05981°)

Tree Ring Dating of Revolutionary War (and some later) Buildings in PA and OH

June 7th, 2009

crew3This summer the Wooster Tree Ring Lab is funded by the College of Wooster’s Center for Entrepreneurship to date buildings of historical interest using tree rings. The crew in this endeavor is shown above and includes – Dr. Greg Wiles, students Kelly Aughenbaugh and Colin Mennett, and Nick Weisenberg who is a timber-framer and works in building restoration. The demand for our service has been excellent and is concentrated in the Pittsburgh area, locally in Kidron, Ohio and now in the Cincinnati area. We can use our archive of tree-ring data and lots of hard work by our staff to tell homeowners, folks at historical sites, historical archaeologists etc. the year timber was cut prior to building the structure. The tools of the trade are shown below. We will tell you a bit about the results of our work soon.

Below: The gear pile includes standard powertools and generators along with specialized dry wood bits. Nick illustrates the proper coring technique. This historic building is Woodville PA – the oak beams that he is coring were cut in the fall or winter of 1785.

gear4tst8

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