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Tuscaloosa/Tours

About Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa is located along the banks of the Black Warrior River and is the fifth largest city in Alabama. It is home to just under 100,000 residents. Tuscaloosa is also known as “Druid City” because of numerous water oak trees in its downtown streets. In recent years, Tuscaloosa has been named the "Most Livable City in America”, one of Americas "100 Best Communities for Young People”,  and one of the "50 Best College Towns” in the United States.

There are a number of activities available for visitors to Tuscaloosa and Alabama. Please refer to: http://visittuscaloosa.com/ 

Moundville Archaeological Park

Native Americans arrived in the Southern United States almost 12,000 years ago. At the Moundville Archaeological Park, south of Tuscaloosa, the remains of a large settlement of the Mississippians provide a glimpse of the rich culture of the Native Americans living in the Tuscaloosa area. It is believed that the Moundville site was occupied from around AD 1000 until AD 1450 and consisted of twenty-six large earthen mounds surrounding a central plaza. At its height the Moundville site consisted of a three hundred acre village with a population of about one thousand and a total of ten thousand in the surrounding areas. More information on the site can be found at: http://moundville.ua.edu/ancient-site/.

Moundville Archaeological Park Moundville Archaeological Park

 

Fossil Hunting

"Alabama has a stunning diversity of fossils, ranging from tiny microfossils to giant prehistoric whales. The state is host to a number of sites that reveal fossil-bearing rocks from the ancient Cambrian period to almost modern-day sediments. These rocks range from the time period when trilobites swarmed in the oceans, more than half a billion years ago, to the more recent past when the world we recognize took shape. Alabama's best-known fossil is its state fossil, Basilosaurus cetoides, an ancient toothed whale, but the state is also home to fossil Paleozoic invertebrates, Pennsylvanian plants, Cretaceous-Tertiary mollusks and vertebrates, and a variety of dinosaurs. These include Lophorhothon atopus, a hadrosaur, and Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis, a tyrannosaur that, so far, is known only from Alabama. The McWane Center in Birmingham and the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa have substantial fossil holdings.”

We will be arranging tours to the following fossil site, conditional on weather and water levels. Because we will be exploring broken up piles of shale, or climbing down natural embankments, it is recommended that attendees interested in attending these tours bring some appropriate clothes and shoes.

Alabama Museum of Natural History Alabama Museum of Natural History

Stephen C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site

Trace fossils are a type of fossil that records what an animal was doing when it was alive. Any activity, such as walking, crawling, jumping, swimming, burrowing, even resting, can leave a trail of footprints or characteristic marks in soft, fine-grained mud that, if buried quickly and deeply enough, may solidify over time and be preserved. Millions of years later, the layered rock can be exposed to reveal the preserved traces. This can happen in coal mines, where the shale strata above coal seams have to be removed to get to the coal.

The Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site in east Walker County is one of the most important trace fossil sites of its age in the world, and also the first fossil site in Alabama that is protected by the state. The traces were made by animals that lived during the coal age, a time when the world's tropical forests grew explosively and laid down much of the world's coal reserves. The coal age in Alabama dates back to the Westphalian A substage of the Pennsylvanian subdivision of the Carboniferous period, a geologic time window dated between 310 and 315 million years ago. This interval is deep within the Paleozoic Era, or era of ancient life. Traces made by vertebrate and invertebrate animals from the Westphalian A are important for what they can tell us about the diversity of coal-age life at a time when reptiles were branching off in an evolutionary sense from amphibians.

In this tour we will visit the Minkin site, located ~68 miles north of Tuscaloosa, to look for footprints, plant fossils, and other kinds of traces. Because we will be exploring broken up piles of shale, it is recommended that attendees bring some appropriate clothes and shoes.

Trackway made by a vertebrate animal from the Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site, east Walker County, Alabama. The trackway is preserved in shale.

The Moscow Landing K-T Boundary

Moscow Landing is the best-known exposure of the Cretaceous-Tertiary ("K-T") Boundary in Alabama. It has been called "the most geologically intriguing contact between Mesozoic and Cenozoic strata within the southeastern United States" by Dr. Charles C. Smith, the geologist who carried out the most detailed study of the site which is located ~75 minutes drive south of Tuscaloosa in Sumter County. The exposure is on a bank of the Tombigbee River, and includes an uncomformity between the Upper Cretaceous Prairie Bluff Chalk (66-68 Myr) and the overlying Paleocene Clayton Formation (62-65 Myr). The unconformity means that the iridium-rich layer normally associated with the K-T Boundary, and attributed to an asteroid impact, is not present, likely due to a period of erosion. What is present are different kinds of small fossils above and below where the iridium layer would be (see pictures).

The highly-variable water level in the Tombigbee River unfortunately makes it difficult to predict far in advance whether the K-T exposure will be accessible. We will likely not be able to judge this until a week or two before the actual meeting.

The K-T exposure at Moscow Landing, Sumter County, Alabama.

Late Cretaceous fossils from the Prairie Bluff Chalk at Moscow Landing, including the spiral-shaped <I>Exogyra costata</I> oyster shells.

Early Cenozoic fossils from the Clayton Formation at Moscow Landing.