Fossils of Kansas

(Frank) And we’re back. (Deb) So, I was in Philadelphia as you know over New Year’s. And while I was there I went to the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Circle. And this is their little brochure, so you gotta go if you’re ever in Philadelphia. I went to see the fossilized remains of an elasmosaurus that was actually dug up out near Fort Wallace in the 1860s, right in the middle of the Indian Wars. And we’re going to do some more stories on that because it’s a phenomenal, just a phenomenal story. But while the personnel there at the museum were showing me through their collections, they’re looking for all the stuff from Kansas. So, you’ve got these fossilized remains of these mostly sea beasts, from when we were an Inland Sea. (Frank) Oh yea, we were the Great Inland Sea. (Deb) We were. It’s amazing. (Frank) And you know, they do study that in school now, cause I know one of my granddaughters said, “Grandpa, do you know about the Great Inland Sea?” And I said, “Hey it’s a fun thing,” and we looked it up and all of that. (Deb) It’s really an amazing story. So, as they’re pulling out these drawers in this incredible facility in Philadelphia, they’re all these little fossilized vertebrae, there’s just all kinds of things. And there are names. Theophilus Turner is the man who found the one out near Fort Wallace. But you’ve got Sternberg, you know a name that everybody in Kansas and anybody in anthropology knows from the Sternberg Museum, of course. But you’ve got Sternberg’s name and on these things. So, I got to thinking about all the places around Kansas that have boasted fossils, and we’ve got some incredible locations here in Kansas that you can go visit and some tremendous stories of people that found things and how they found them. And so, there’s just stories all over the place. (Frank) Yea, yea. And the thing is especially with a lot of sandstone and all of that, cause I know I’ve got a pond in my garden and all that and as I was collecting rocks, I’d come upon a rock and there would be like a seashell in it. And it’s like, huh that’s cool. So, this has been around for some time. (Deb) Exactly. It’s just an amazing part of our history and geography and it’s so accessible. Like I said there’s just locations all over the state that you can go and learn more and some of these you may be familiar with and some you may not be that familiar with. So, we want to share some of those with you today. According to the Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas rocks are full of fossils. Fossils are the signs of ancient plants and animals. They come in many forms, from bones and shells to carbon traces, tracks, and burrows. For fossilization to occur, an organism must be buried fairly quickly to protect it from being eaten by scavengers, attacked by bacteria, or worn away by wind or wave action. Occasionally, mudslides and volcanic eruptions quickly bury organisms on land, but rapid burial is more likely to occur in water. Based on marine fossils contained in many of the rocks that crop out at the surface in Kansas, scientists know that shallow seas covered the area for long intervals throughout the past. These seas were ideal for rapid burial. Rivers, lakes, ponds and streams also made good burial sites. Many significant fossils have been discovered in Kansas and many sites throughout the state have them on display. One of the most significant was near Sheridan, Kansas, when the post surgeon from Fort Wallace, Theophilus Turner, uncovered a plesiosaur nearly 42 feet long. A replica of the fossil is now displayed in the Fort Wallace Museum. Another interesting exhibit is in Minneapolis at the Ottawa County Museum. The Silvisaurus condrayi was found by rancher Warren Condray in the 1950s. Senator Frank Carlson connected Condray with folks at KU and the beast he discovered was named for him and is the only one of its type discovered to this point. The museum displays many rocks and fossils other than Silvisaurus, including a dinosaur egg from China. The Fick Fossil and History Museum in Oakley began with the collections of Ernest and Vi Fick. When the thousands of shark’s teeth and other finds outgrew their home, the museum was established to share these artifacts with the public. Of course the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas, is famous for his fish-within-a-fish fossil discovered by George Sternberg. Other fossils include huge marine reptiles, toothed birds, giant clams, flying reptiles, sharks, and bizarre fishes.