Traces of Time: Fossils from the Collection

Saturday, July 25 to Sunday, October 24, 2010,
Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature

The University of Richmond Museums presents Traces of Time: Fossils from the Collection, on view from July 25, 2009, through June 20, 2010, in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature. The exhibition explores different prehistoric environments through the use of fossil plants and animals from the collection. The specimens show some of the similarities and differences between earlier earth environments and modern ecosystems. Highlights include fossils from the Green River Formation in the United States and the Santana Formation in Brazil. Also included are flora and fauna that were native to what is now Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region, such as the Pliocene scallop Chesapecten jeffersonius.

The Chesapecten lineage of scallops flourished in Virginia and elsewhere from the Miocene Epoch into the Pliocene Epoch, from 8 to 3 million years ago. The best known is the Chesapecten jeffersonius, the state fossil of Virginia and the first North American fossil to be illustrated and described in a scientific text. These scallops and other shelled mollusks were periodically deposited when higher temperatures melted the polar ice caps and caused the Atlantic Ocean to surge inland.

The section of the Green River Formation in the southwestern area of Wyoming comprises several basins formed as part of the uplifting of the Rocky Mountains during the lower Tertiary period, between 66 to 38 million years ago. The fossils found in this region illustrate the remarkable preservation of a diverse array of flora and fauna. Featured in the exhibition, the stingray Heliobatis is one of the earliest described species that demonstrate that the Eocene (55 to 33 million years ago) rocks of Wyoming had supported a warm subtropical lake environment. Later discoveries of animals, such as crocodiles and alligators, and plants, such as palm trees and balloon vines, further reinforced the idea of a subtropical climate quite distinct from the modern semi-arid climate today.

One of the richest fossil deposits in the world, the Santana Formation in northeastern Brazil dates back to 110 million years ago. Santana fossils are known for their extreme diversity and the quality of the preservation. Highlighted in the exhibition is the ray-finned Neoproscinetes penalvai. These deep-bodied fish used their heavy rounded teeth like a crushing mill to break up shells or skeletal parts of their prey.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was curated by Matthew Houle, Curator of Museum Collections, University of Richmond Museums. The exhibition is made possible in part with the generous support of the University’s Cultural Affairs Committee.

Concurrently on view in the Gottwald Science Center, University of Richmond, also beginning July 25, are new installations of fossil specimens from the permanent collection of the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature. Display cases on the auditorium level and floors one to three contain specimens from the Green River and Santana Formations, as well as petrified wood, leaf fossils, trilobites, mollusks, and coral from other locations. Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the installations were co-curated by Matthew Houle, Curator of Museum Collections, University of Richmond Museums, and Amy Mueller, ’10, biology and global public health double major, University of Richmond.

Video of the lecture "Evolution of Nest-Building Fishes of North America" by Eugene G. Maurakis visiting research scientist in the Department of Biology, University of Richmond, given in conjunction with the exhibition, Traces of Time: Fossils from the Collection. (link)

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Evolution of Nest-Building Fishes of North America
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Programming

Friday, October 22, 2010, 12:30 to 1 p.m.
Curator’s Talk, Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature
Curious Creatures: Fossils from the Collection
Matthew Houle, Curator of Museum Collections, University Museums, and curator of the exhibition Traces of Time: Fossils from the Collection