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August 2020 Fossil Hunting – Walker County

On August 29, 2020, with the COVID pandemic still keeping people largely at home, fossil collecting provides a wonderful escape. The Alabama Paleontological Society took advantage and headed out to collect Pennsylvanian Age fossils from the Pottsville formation. Several of our membership were joined by a number of new and prospective APS members on our monthly Walker County fossil hunt. The last remnants and moisture from historic Hurricane Laura provided cloudy skies which held temperatures in the low eighties into early afternoon, but you could cut the air with a knife! To say it was humid gives no justice to the level of moisture in the air, but this is the end of August in Alabama and comes with the territory. Everyone was simply happy it was not 100 degrees. Things were also wet as there had been a good bit of rain in the previous 24 hours. The poor light and muddy conditions made searching for trace fossils a real challenge but the shining black of the plant fossils were jumping off the rocks.

The humidity was not the only thing creating a tropical feel and challenging the group of fossil hunters – there was the jungle of weeds. The spoil piles were literally blanketed with vines and the weeds were waste deep in places, but even the tropical jungle was not enough to keep the group from finding a wide variety of fantastic fossils. Below are some examples found by APS members Prescott and Jim B.

The first set of pictures are of some of the fabulous plant fossil: a couple examples of pollen organs (Jim B), followed by foliage of a seed fern (Prescott), and another fern (Jim B).

Prescott had a great day finding several less common and unusual fossils from this site.The first pictured is a terrific Undichna trace fossil made by the fins of a fish as they swept through the soft mud while swimming. The next is a mollusk impression; this is a fairly uncommon fossil from the site. Finally, an enigmatic fossil or perhaps even a pseudo-fossil. Puzzling fossils like this are much of the fun of interpreting trace fossils!

Remarkably, there were also a number of tetrapod tracks and trackways found, even given the poor conditions for seeing them. The first pair of trackways (found by Prescott) represent both the impression and counter-impression of the same trackway. The next trackway is the impressions of a tiny amphibian; a pen was included in the picture for additional scale. The final trackway is accompanied by insect burrows and and other trace fossils. Both of these trackways were found by Jim B.

Just from these few examples, one can begin to appreciate the amazing diversity of life that was recorded in the fossil record from the site. We are so fortunate to have such a great fossil location capturing so much of the flora and fauna that occupied this area ~310 million years ago! Many more fossils were found, and everyone had a great time.

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