Beyond The Pale

My questionable but sprightly engineer friend returned a couple of days ago from a family excursion into the wilds of his ancestral Nebraska, about which there was nothing remarkable but an unexpected side trip to a fossil bed.

That brought back memories — no, I am not really that old — memories, I mean, of being a tiny sprout in the Fifties and Sixties and being dead keen on fossils and prehistoric eras and geological ages and all the rest of it.

I don’t know what other little kids think of (and judging from the way most of them behave, I don’t want to know) but there was a period when my mind was easily lured into contemplation of what it must have been like to be adrift in the Pre-Cambrian seas for countless millennia. I remember thinking: it would have been so peaceful and quiet despite being full of new life. (Ironically, the piece of music that perfectly expresses what I imagined is Rachmaninoff’s Island of the Dead: just imagine that going on for about seven-eighths of Earth’s history.)

No question, I was a gazetteer of dinosaurs in those days, not to mention some late Cretaceous and Tertiary mammals, but the issue that rocked my socks was the colossal age of, well, everything (I have never to this day understood the Bible bozos who seem to think that science takes the glory or soul or whatever out of existence).

So after perusing the post-trip photo album — perfectly preserved whole skeletons of rhinos in the Nebraska plains, and grad students sitting in the field flicking sand away from bones grain by grain with a brush, something I must have imagined for myself at one point in my peculiar childhood — I started hunting around the Net, trying to reconstitute memories. My father’s side of the family actually hails from Nebraska and once, when I was around ten, they took a similar excursion to the Black Hills of South Dakota, which are crummy with fossils. I still have a tiny jawbone, which might be an Eohippus or might be something else.

I never did find any jog to memory of the exact place we came away with that jawbone, but I did find this, and I’ve been gawping at it all evening.


I’ve been working my way up the “jump to another period” drop menu on this part of the site, from Pre-cambrian to Cambrian to Ordovician to Silurian, goggling at the graphic that depicts the topological contortions of the earth’s land masses through geologic eras, all of them christened with grand and rolling names – Avalonia, Gondwana, Laurentia. It’s damned hard to say “solid ground” with a straight face after reading how bits of Nova Scotia as we now know it peeled off from a supercontinent amalgamating Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica.

I will never understand people who need the book of Genesis — poetic and poignant though it may be — to be truer than this planetary grandeur.

If you want to take a trip to someplace where you can collect fossils, or to a museum full of fossils, or view just about any research, lecture, database, or field guide about prehistory and fossils, this site has got you covered.

I am getting into the Devonian now. Catch you later.

11 thoughts on “Beyond The Pale

  1. Rocks and fossils — they affect me the same way. I love ’em. One of my favorite books is John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, which is a geological safari across North America. When I walked across the Grand Canyon with my folks back in circa 1965, I was completely enrapt in the age and history of it all.

    I have many fossils on the entry table by my front door, they absolutely fascinate me.

    I don’t understand the need for Genesis to be truer than the geological splendor laid out all around us.

  2. I have been especially interested in the prehistoric seas and oceans. I always take in exhibits of these creatures. A couple of years ago we visited the Virginia Science Museum’s exhibit on the ancient inland sea that was much of North America. The Smithsonian also does exhibits and displays of marine fossils.

    My mother was quite the fossil aficionado who (though a nursing major) took countless electives in science courses that allowed her a chance to study the earliest periods of earth’s history.

    I don’t see science as a threat to Genesis. I don’t see Genesis as less true because of science. Genesis is no threat to scientific inquiry. Greed and lust for some form of personal gain is the enemy of Heaven and the Terrestrial sphere.

    There is really no war between science and revealed religion, but those who would usurp the authority of either for reasons neither sacred or profane, but personal create false crises for their own ends. Remember, creating strife is key to establishing conditions ripe for crime.

    Beware of people, in particular, who offer to one day reveal “the whole truth” to a select few. It matters not if these people preach from a pulpit or stand behind a lectern on a campus. Beware of people who posses “the truth” as revealed to them through Holy Writ on the Profane works of Brilliant minds. These people are doing the work of demons, not conveying Divine or Earthly knowledge.

  3. I was crazy about dinosaurs when I was a kid and spent hours and hours looking through picture books and copying them the best I could. And fossils seemed almost magical to me.

    “I will never understand people who need the book of Genesis”

    Well, the bible was written by people who thought the world was flat. That anyone would take it literally now and ignore science is beyond me.

    Here’s Billy Connolly on Catholicism and Sarah Palin…

  4. This reminds me of something I’ve always meant to do … visit the aptly-named Fossil, OR where visitors can extract a fossil from the exposed ancient riverbeds, as a takehome souvenir.

    • Once upon a Sleddy lifetime ago I was taken to a bit of Virginia where you could quest for, not fossils, but bits of mineral specimens, almost as good especially since some of them were flawed but incontestable garnets.

      The only catch was the that the mook who gave permission for his property to be thus used was a beagle breeder.

      So you would be panning in a shallow stream for Herkimer diamonds, whch are doubly terminated quartz crystals, and look up and some great bloody beagle would be sniffing at your shoulder giving you a heart attack.

      Word was that the fellow had two dozen beagles and his wife said See Here, My Man, I am leaving unless you get rid of some of these creatures, and he went and got a dozen more and that was that.

      I have a cigar box of Amazonite and another of mica and bits of the Herkimer stones and garnet still.

    • I actually think my father consulted a paleontological hobbyist of his acquaintance and did so, but then he went and buggered off for the next thirty years, so you know…?

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