Monday, May 24, 2010

Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site Update

Cindy Wallace was on a field trip with her son, Gavin, to one of the world's richest sites for Coal Age fossils, the former Union Chapel surface coal mine located near Sumiton in Walker County.

While Gavin scoured the rock piles for fossils, Wallace used a tiny watch screwdriver and a rock to chip at a piece of slate. When the layers broke apart, it revealed the hand-sized tracks of Attenosaurus subulensis, a wolf-sized salamander that was the largest terrestrial creature living during the period prior to the emergence of the dinosaurs.

"It has some of the best preserved tracks of the Attenosaurus that have been found," said Carl Sloan, secretary of the Alabama Paleontological Society, which has been instrumental in the discovery, preservation and fossil collection at the Union Chapel Mine site.

Jun Ebersole, the collections manager of McWane Science Center, agreed.

"The tracks are some of the best ever found in the state," he said.

At the time the Attenosaurus was prowling Walker County, the area was an alluvial plain of tropical forest and tidal flats on the coast of an ancient ocean. The remains of the lush tropical forests accumulated in thick blankets of peat which were then covered over and buried. Over time, under pressure and heat, the peat was transformed into the coal deposits the region is known for.

The Union Chapel Mine site was discovered in 1999 by a high school science teacher, Ashley Allen, who found a treasure trove of fossil impressions of plants and animals from the Coal Age in the area.

The mine was due to be covered over under the requirements of the Mining Reclamation Act until a coalition of amateur fossil hunters waged a campaign to have it preserved.

Currently owned by the state of Alabama, the site, now known as the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site, has produced thousands of plant fossils and animal and insect tracks. The Paleontology Society manages access to the site, and visitors are allowed to keep fossils unless they are deemed to be significant enough to merit further study or inclusion in a museum collection. Wallace's find is headed for the McWane Center collection.

Wallace had taken her 12-year-old son, Gavin, on the expedition with Fresh Air Family, an organization that leads parents and children on outdoor explorations around the state.

But for Cindy Wallace, the Attenosaurus tracks were her first find.

"It was my very first fossil," Wallace said.

For more information regarding the Stephen C. Minkin fossil site please refer to an article from Outdoor Alabama at the following

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