March 19, 2000 - Pennsylvanian Fossils, Walker Co, AL

Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama

It was decided at the March meeting that the BPS should return to this mine once again as an organized field trip. As I have noted in previous reports, this is a site the BPS visited with great success just two months earlier. The site is rich in footprint fossils of Pennsylvanian amphibians and other creatures. Although the previous organized visit, on January 23, occurred on a rather bleak day, it was nothing like the one today. Rain fell hard all day across most of Alabama and never let up even for a few minutes. Because of the weather, only six people turned up for this outing. tracks
  Figure 1 Unusual tracks of one or two large creatures that must have been moving in very wet mud.


In spite of the weather, several of us still found nice tracks and other fossils. I show a few that I picked up here. One large set of tracks I found was lying at the bottom of a rock pile that had been thoroughly searched. After the tracks were cleaned of mud, it looks to me like they are amphibian tracks that were laid down in rather wet mud. The impressions are wide as the creatures' whole body probably sloshed in the mud. There are two sets of tracks on the main piece, and details of one are shown in the close-up.tracks
  Figure 2 Close-up of part of the previous specimen, showing likely toe prints flanking the broad body scrape.


tracksFigure 3 Small tracks of one or more creatures that could be Bipedes aspodon.
A much smaller set of tracks I found in a different area has small y-shaped prints in a bit of a random pattern. In Museum Paper No. 9 of the Alabama Museum of Natural History (authors Aldrich and Jones), a creature that produced similar tracks is known as Bipedes aspodon. At least two sets of tracks are also present on this piece. Bipedes aspodon is described by Aldrich and Jones as an animal with only two toes. Although Aldrich and Jones clearly considered the creature to be an amphibian, BPS members who found similar tracks felt they are more likely to be tracks of an arthropod.


track Figure 4 Single print of Quadropedia prima, a modest-sized amphibian. At this layer, the track shows five clear toes as well as a pad.
I found some other interesting and larger tracks on a large rock on the well-searched rock piles. I suspected tracks might be inside at a deeper level in this rock. The rock had interesting deposits or formations that covered different layers, but it was not clear what these features might be. After removing many layers of the rock, I did indeed find four footprints of a modest-sized creature which, according to Museum Paper No. 9, is an amphibian known as Quadropedia prima. Aldrich and Jones state that the creature is higher in the scale than most of the species they illustrated in their article, because it walked more like later reptiles. They point out the presence of a distinct pad, which we can see in the pictures I show here. The four prints could be detected at several different layers, and at least one of the prints was well-defined at all of the layers. The appearance of the prints seemed different at different layers, suggesting that some of the variety in the prints we have been finding at the site is due in part to the different layers that were exposed.


Figure 5 Two tracks of the same creature, the one at right being the same foot as in the previous picture, but the print looks different because it is at a different level. At this level, only three toes are seen, with a strong pad.

Other Notes on the Union Chapel Site January 23-March 19, 2000

The Union Chapel Mine was visited many times by BPS members and guests between January 23 and March 19. Ashley Allen brought to the February BPS meeting a huge rock with a set of excellent large amphibian prints. Bruce Relihan brought to the March BPS meeting a large stump cast of a likely Lepidodendron. The stump is more than a foot in diameter and tapers around the edges, as if it were near the bottom of the original trunk. Bruce related the heroic effort he put into getting the huge fossil by himself, which involved building a rock ramp to allow him to get it into his truck. Steve Minkin also brought to the last BPS meeting an excellent set of modest-sized tracks found by his wife.

All in all, the Union Chapel site elicited such great interest and finds that Steve Minkin asked Ed Hooks if the BPS could have a temporary display case at the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa. Ed agreed to this and some of the new Union Chapel pieces may soon be on display for the public to see!