By Casey Smith, Naturalist
I’m a big fan of fossils. I have a shoe box full of rocks I’ve been collecting since I was very young. My mother kept this box for me, full of gravel and “precious gems” bought at the local county fair and made sure I got it back when I was old enough to appreciate it. Since then, my knowledge and collection of rocks and fossils has expanded, but I still have the rocks that started it all. What I love most about fossils is being connected to a time that we have never seen, holding a piece of the past in my hand. The earth’s entire history is written in rocks and fossils, we just need to interpret what they’re telling us.
A 400-million-year-old brachiopod shell found in a dry stream bed tells us that Ohio used to be under water. When this brachiopod was alive, Ohio was covered by a shallow sea so ancient it predated fish. Also, in the sea were trilobites, cephalopods, and coral. Trilobite fossils are so abundant in Ohio that one species, Isotelus maximus, was named our state fossil in 1985. The limestone in local driveways and on the trails here at Preservation Parks comes from these ancient coral beds.
As we turn the pages of time to find a fossilized tree branch at Shale Hollow Park, we discover that 300 million years ago the ocean had receded and Ohio was forested. The trees found at Shale Hollow had scaly bark and fern like leaves. This forest was home to the largest insects in our planet’s history. Imagine dragonflies with three-foot wingspans!
Although dinosaur fossils may be the most popular, none have ever been found in Ohio. Ohio is missing all its Mesozoic Era aged rock, the time period when dinosaurs lived. Over 259 million years’ worth of pages of Ohio’s history book have been torn out and lost to time. Dinosaurs almost certainly lived here as they’ve been found in surrounding states, but the conditions here were not right for creating fossils during that time, and we can’t say for sure what Ohio would have looked like.
The time that had the biggest impact in Ohio’s story is the Ice Age. It started 2 million years ago and ended roughly 12,000 years ago. Massive glaciers covered two thirds of Ohio while mastodons, saber toothed cats, and giant sloths roamed the land.
Once you learn how to interpret the rocks, reading Ohio’s stone stories is just as satisfying as watching a good plot unfold. What history will future civilizations find in the fossils created today?