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Rainy Day APS Field Trip To A Reclaimed Coal Mine

On Saturday 21 December 2019 about a dozen members of the APS went on a half-day field trip to an old coal mine that sets astride the Jefferson and Tuscaloosa County line known to have Carboniferous, Pennsylvanian age plant fossils. During that cold rainy day, we were led to a large flat area that had been reclaimed. People walked along the roads and scoured the barren ground and some found a few small tree trunks, and a couple of ferns. Ashley hit the jackpot with a 'Calamites' stem that as he tried to excavate it, the stem grew larger but deeper into the bedrock. As I understand it he came away with a pretty good 3-D stem, but had to abandon two-thirds of it because he lacked a jack-hammer. I found a pretty good chunk of a Cordaites tree trunk.

I don't understand how they manage to find such awesome pieces every time they go on an outing. I saw a lot of ferns, small calamite stems, and leaves, but because of the rains the rocks were very unstable. One had to be extremely careful otherwise the entire specimen would dissolve into gravel right in your hands. A cooking spatula would have been handy on this field trip.

I was having terrible luck in finding anything collectible. Every time I saw a nice fern fossils, when I attempted pick them up they would break apart. Finally, I split a large fragile and flaky rock exposing a wing. Unfortunately the place where the insect body would have been had disintegrated into what resembled rock oatmeal. I carefully scooped up the both the positive and negative plate and walked it right to the car where I cautiously placed it on the floor of the car. The fossil had cell structures and sure looked like a wing, so I called Bruce over who replied that I should be very careful with it because in his opinion it had a good chance of being a real wing. I immediately took photos of the fossil just in case it was damaged in transit. Then I returned for the rest of the 9” X 12” x 4” rock that it came from. Shortly afterwards the rain picked up so the field trip was ended before noon.

Because it was so unstable when I got it home I laid it out on an old window screen to dry out, and then I painted it with a glue mixture to prevent the rock from disintegrating further. I took the rock to the January meeting of the Alabama Paleontological Society where I showed it to the president and vice-president of APS, and our guest speaker, Dr. Adiel Klompmaker, the new head curator of the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa. He said it was without a doubt a fossilized dragonfly wing. The wing was identified as belonging to the now extinct Oligotypus Tuscaloosae Dragonfly.

~Glen Beckwith

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