I myself, am a geology kind of guy. When I sit looking at the landscape around me I somehow feel it. Intuitively, I sense those things required in the making of a landscape and the immense time involved for them to take place. Regardless of what the religionists say or how they present their point. I know that this land we live on is of a time much longer than can be calculated in biblical times. It is the correlation between geologic observation and fossil dating that substantiates the actual time frame. I find it more than peculiar that people deride the various methods for dating antiquity; until those methods are used to verify a particular belief they hold. That aside, what fossils and the study of them provides to us, is what life in the distant past was and the environment of those times.

The requirements for fossilization are really quite forthright. A medium that is laid down upon the sample in a rather short period of time. This allows the sample to be preserved before decay and degradation of the sample can occur. There are a myriad number of variables that affect what may or may not happen. The best example is that the sands and gravels that entomb and preserve a vertebrate carcass; would never be suitable for the preservation of a leaf. The fossilizing of trees and leaves require muds or shale deposits, with the sample laid flat. The areas of shallow bays and shorelines, where runoff from erosion is more prevalent, is best for that sort of entombment. It is of course the distillation of organic material and the mineralization of a particular sample that leads to fossilization.

The study of fossils shows the basic climate of a region as well as the surrounding landscape. An example of the former is the fossil plant deposits of camporwood and ferns that occur in the shales of the middle Eocene deposits. These indicate a much warmer climate than exists within our present Mediterranean climate. A complementary example of the latter is a string of sites called Sweet Home Flora from the Little Butte volcanics of the Eugene formation. These sites show flora that existed in the early Oligocene along an ancient shoreline from the southern end of the present day Willamette valley north toward Portland. Something else that is shown within the specimens of floral fossils is the natural succession of forests. This emphasizes the variation of climate. Because of the overwhelming availability of plant material (leaves) for fossilizing,; transition of vegetation and climate can be tracked with a high degree of certainty. It is the further correlation among fossils combined with geological evidence, that paints a mural of a particular place in time. One of these dioramas occurs in the Deschutes River valley. The geology of the time exhibits deposits from nearby volcanos. There are diatomite beds that indicate a lake basin. While the floral fossils of Aspen suggest a dry cool climate. And fossil bones show camels wandering this landscape.

There are none of those currently vogue Dino bones found here in Oregon, most of which was under water at that time. The earliest flora fossils date back to the Pennsylvanian Epoch some 300 million years past, and are found in east central Oregon. The fauna fossil evidence dates back much further to the Devonian period. Those fossils are invertebrates found in thick deposits of limestone. In fact the collection of fossil marine invertebrates found throughout Oregon, is one of the most abundant and informative in the world.

However, looking at clam shells is nowhere as glamorous as a T. Rex fantasy but there are a wide range of vertebrate fossils. A partial, but intriguing list, could include; flamingos, sharks in eastern Oregon, turtles with six foot shells, crocodiles, rhinos, mastodons, three kinds of camels and the evolution of the horse. There is also a fossil record of a horned gopher found nowhere else in the world. It is the bones that excite most people. There is a degree of abstract thought required to look at a particular fossil and correlate it with a present day animal. There is even more required when one finds a fossil record that contains three distinct genus of camels. That, then demands the awareness of nature itself. These fossilized remains may represent a singular animal, yet the camels existed in herds, just as did the mastodons or the giant ground sloths. They in turn required the appropriate environment for an ongoing existence. It is more than possible, with fossil evidence, to construct a great number of dioramas similar to the earlier example. Naturally each would be different and while each is frozen in time. The actuality is they are only a slice of time.

Yes, it is all very fascinating. The variety of life spread across both time and the area of Oregon is astounding. A great place to visit and observe many of these fossils is the John Day Fossil Beds Natural Monument on Oregon state route 218 about eighty miles south of Interstate 84 near the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. There you can see those fossils: And if you are very still, you may be able to feel the pulse of the landscape.

Michael Sherer

Consider novels by Naomi Sherer available on Amazon

Sagesong cover Rise to the Occasion cover
Coming Soon: Beyond Namche, The Open Door, Wildly in the Rockies


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