Sunday, January 22, 2017

Over 65 Million Years Old

Fossils found recently by the author within the city limits of Kerrville
Time is hard for me to understand.
I can wrap my mind around some time periods. I understand how it feels to wait in line for ten minutes. I remember three decades ago when our children were born. I can understand how this community looked 100 years ago -- and I know a bit about the people who lived here then.
Longer time frames are hard, but still manageable. I know about the American Revolutionary War. I understand about Europe during the Renaissance. Egyptians building pyramids, got it.
Even with those historic landmarks, long periods of time are still difficult to comprehend.
Harder still are some of the artifacts found in our community. I know of two Clovis points found in Kerr County, which suggest people have passed through this area for around 10,000 years.
10,000 years is hard to understand, so I break it up into generations. For convenience, I assumed a generation every 20 years -- so 10,000 years is 500 generations. That trick helps a bit, but 10,000 years is such a very long time. And 500 generations -- unknowable.
Imagine, then, if there was something in Kerr County which suggests 10,000 years is really no time at all.
Imagine if these time travelers were abundant, free, and widespread in our community.
This last week, on the evening of the big storm, I was up on a hill inside the city limits of Kerrville exploring the distant past. I was hunting for fossils.
There are many places in the Texas Hill Country where it is harder to find a rock that is not a fossil than it is to find a fossil. I know of several spots where the fossils are so thick they carpet the ground.
A little studying tells me our area was once underwater -- beneath a shallow sea. The fossils I found were from small marine creatures.
Years ago William Matthews wrote "Texas Fossils: an amateur collector's handbook," and it's available online for free from the University of Texas. In it, I learned our area of Texas, the Edwards Plateau, just north of the Balcones Fault and south of the Llano Uplift, is rich in fossils.
Many of the fossils are of marine animals -- such as snails, urchins, bivalves, and even fish. But the area also has dinosaur fossils, including fossilized dinosaur footprints. (There are at least two sites in Kerr County with these ancient footprints.)
Kerr County lies in the Lower Cretaceous geologic area of Texas, with plenty of limestone and shale. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, made up of layers and layers of debris and muck, and often the remains of animals, which can become fossilized.
As children, we often collected fossils we called "Texas Hearts," which are an internal mold of a Texas Cretaceous pelecypod. We also found many "stone ears," which were the shells of gastropods and pelecypods, a type of clam or mussel.
As a child, my son was especially good at finding fossilized tylostoma, the corkscrew fossils that look like snail shells. He found them in all sizes. They're the internal mold of a gastropod.
Ms. Carolyn once found a fossilized plant, a small leaf imprint.  We've found what looks like fossilized coral.  There are many types of fossils in our area.
These fossils are tens of millions of years old; the Cretaceous geologic period stretched between 66 and 145 million years ago.
As the big rain storm gathered last Sunday evening, I was on a hillside in town. I found two small fossilized urchins. They looked like Phymosoma texanum specimens to me; they were about the size of a quarter. They weren't museum quality specimens, but you could still make out the lines of bumps radiating from the center like the petals of a flower.
As the rain began, I thought how the fossils of these two little creatures had been waiting on that hillside for tens of millions of years. It was an amount of time I could not understand, but I could hold something in my hand from that long ago.
If you go fossil hunting in our area, hillsides are often better than hilltops. There are plenty of fossils to find. Don't trespass to go fossil hunting; there are lots of sites open to the public where fossils are abundant.  Happy hunting!
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who likes to find fossils and artifacts in our community.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 21, 2017.

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