Fernbank Museum celebrates fossils all year long, but we are really excited that Wednesday, October 16, 2013 is National Fossil Day! This annual event is part of a nationwide Earth Science Week, celebrating the importance of fossils, including clues they offer about plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Here’s an exclusive look at some incredible, delicate fossils that are not normally on view to the public.
Eremotherium, a type of giant ground sloth, lived in North America during the latter part of the most recent Ice Age, from about 700,000 years ago to as recently as 8000 years ago. In 1992, divers found the fossilized bones of this giant ground sloth in the Frederica River. Paleontologists estimate that this specimen is 85% complete. Several bones, including the skull, are on display in A Walk Through Time in Georgia. Look for them next to the lifesized model of a closely-related type of giant ground sloth known as Megatherium.
Petrified wood literally means “stony wood”—that is, the original woody plant (often a tree) has been partially or entirely replaced by minerals that percolate through as it lies buried under layers of sediment. Under the right conditions, fine details such as tree rings and cellular structure can be preserved. Different varieties of the mineral quartz give this fossil its beauty. Although this specimen doesn’t show fine details, it is possible to discern a general tree ring pattern.
Excavated from the famous Coon Creek fossil site in western Tennessee, this fossil is approximately 70 million years old. Baculites, like its coiled relative the ammonite, is an extinct member of the cephalopod family, marine animals that include modern squid and octopus. At the time, western Tennessee had a semi-tropical climate located along the shoreline of a vast, shallow inland sea. Coon Creek is famous because of the sheer number and variety of marine fossils that have been identified—over 600—and even more astonishingly, the near original-condition of many of the fossils.
Wooly Mammoth Tooth in Jaw
Wooly mammoths roamed North America, including Georgia, toward the end of the most recent Ice Age, 80,000 to 4,000 years ago. This fossil was excavated in Alaska and has not been dated.
Mammoths had huge molar teeth at the front of each jaw, two upper and two lower. Each tooth was made up of numerous ridges of hard enamel. Like their elephant relatives, mammoths had six sets of teeth in its lifetime.
Found near Bardstown, Kentucky, this fossil is a type of tabulate coral estimated to be 350-400 million years old. Tabulate corals look like a series of organ pipes joined together, and lived together in massive colonies, similar to modern reef-building corals. Millions of years ago, much of what is now the Central and Southeastern United States was covered by vast, shallow oceans. The evidence is found in layers of sedimentary rock, especially limestone, which contain fossils of sea creatures including brachiopods, trilobites and coral.
Learn more about fossils, paleontology and more sciences at Fernbank’s annual Science at Hand Day (November 9).