Fossils wave hello from Iowa past

Fossil+is+displayed+at+Trowbridge+Hall%2C+on+Tuesday%2C+Apr+5%2C+2016.+The+fossils+were+found+during+the+construction+at+the+Seamans+Center.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FPeter+Kim%29

Peter Kim

Fossil is displayed at Trowbridge Hall, on Tuesday, Apr 5, 2016. The fossils were found during the construction at the Seamans Center. (The Daily Iowan/Peter Kim)

385 million-year old fossils uncovered at construction site near the Seamans Center.

By Madeline Murphy Smith

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Imagine Iowa 385 million years ago. Imagine it submerged underwater and surrounded by a coral reef.

That is what Iowa looked like in that era — the same time period in which fossils dug up by construction crews would have been living creatures.

On March 22, construction crews, while working on the expansion to the University of Iowa Seamans Center, found several coral and steromatoporoids fossils.

Ryan Clark, a geologist with the Iowa Geological Survey, said a discovery such as this is a reminder that 385 million years ago, Iowa was covered by a shallow sea and had a much warmer climate. 

“These fossils were living in an environment very similar to a modern coral reef is today, which is evidence that shows us Iowa was once covered by an ocean and sat closer to the equator,” he said.

Clark said fossils such as the ones discovered during the Seamans Center construction could be found in buildings across Iowa City.

“The rock formation these fossils come from were used to build the majority of the Old Capitol,” he said.

Clark said this discovery made him appreciate his work with the fossils he works with on a daily basis. He added the general public seems to be more interested in something else.

“The thing I noticed that seems to be more interesting to the general public isn’t so much about where Iowa was or the fossils themselves, but the concept of 385 million years ago as being such a big chunk of time, and it has people amazed,” he said.

Bob Libra, the state geologist of Iowa, said that in light of the recent discovery, a lot of people seem to appreciate knowing the history of Iowa and may be curious to know “what’s under my town?”

“It’s almost a heritage thing to want to know what things used to be like,” he said.

Tiffany Adrain, the UI geoscience collections-management specialist, said she tentatively plans to display a few of the fossils in Trowbridge Hall so people can see them. She said these fossils are a good way for students and people on the campus to connect to our distant history.

“Three hundred eighty-five million years ago, Iowa used to be the ocean, but also Europeans who came here early on used that rock to build some of their early buildings,” she said. “Some of the buildings on campus include rocks from that reef.”

Adrain said there is a whole world of stuff under our feet and a discovery like this is a great reminder to think about where we are in time and space.

“It’s quite exciting to be walking around and have fossils being pulled out of the ground from 385 million years ago,” she said.

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