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Ask Rufus: Earthquakes, volcanoes and fossils

 

Within the Cretaceous deposits of northeast Mississippi, 75 million-year-old sharks teeth are common fossils. The sites and formation in which they are found have been included in Mississippi geological reports since the 1850s.

Within the Cretaceous deposits of northeast Mississippi, 75 million-year-old sharks teeth are common fossils. The sites and formation in which they are found have been included in Mississippi geological reports since the 1850s. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

A drawing showing a cross section of Plymouth Bluff found in Harper’s 1857 Preliminary Report on the Geology and Agriculture of Mississippi.

A drawing showing a cross section of Plymouth Bluff found in Harper’s 1857 Preliminary Report on the Geology and Agriculture of Mississippi.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

A couple of days ago I was trying to decide what to write about in today's column when I received an email from Peter Imes asking if I had seen the new book on the Geology of Mississippi. A massive 751-page encyclopedic book, "The Geology of Mississippi," has just been published. Mixed in with some highly technical data is some fascinating information on earthquakes, volcanoes and fossils in Mississippi.  

 

This new geologic survey of the state by David Dockery and David Thompson brought to mind the Mississippi geology surveys of 1854, 1857 and 1860 with which I am more familiar. While the new geological survey has a world of interesting information, I enjoy reading the early views of our area. 

 

Harper's 1857 Preliminary Report on the Geology and Agriculture of Mississippi spends about two pages discussing Plymouth Bluff. It refers to the bluff being four miles northwest of Columbus and presenting "a very fine view of the superposition of Cretaceous strata." In other words, the bluff offers a great cross section of 75 million year old chalk and sands of the Cretaceous Period. Harper reported fossils of many extinct creatures having been found there. I recalled having found fossil ammonites (related to present day nautilus) there years ago. They were about a foot in diameter. Harper refers to one reported to have been 12 feet in diameter being found there. 

 

Other fossil locations that Harper referred to included Town Creek (eastern Clay County), Barton's Bluff on the Tombigbee and "the high bluff, immediately under the warehouses" at Columbus (South Side). Also included was a list of the fossils collected by Dr. William Spillman of Columbus. This is the Spillman whose Columbus museum I wrote about several weeks ago. Harper said that "the cabinet of Dr. Spillman will be a real treasure "to the palaeontology" of Mississippi.  

 

Hilgard's 1860 Report on the Geology and Agriculture of Mississippi not only discusses Plymouth Bluff, but adds additional information about Barton's Bluff. Of Barton he wrote, "The prodigious number of sharks teeth and fragments of shark's jaws found in the lower indurate ledge ... is a remarkable feature of this outcropping." 

 

The new state geological report gets rather technical in places but provides a detailed look at earthquakes and volcanoes in Mississippi. There is a most interesting chapter on earthquakes. The New Madrid earthquake of 1811-1812 is discussed, along with earthquakes that have occurred in Mississippi since 1853. Since 1853, there have been 46 earthquakes with epicenters in Mississippi. Most have been so small as to have not been noticed. An earthquake occurred in 2002 centered near Brooksville but was not felt on the surface. Earthquakes in 1977 in Calhoun County and in 2012 in northern Lauderdale County were felt. Most recently on May 2, 2015, there were two quakes near Canton that were felt on the surface. 

 

The new survey also includes much information on the volcanoes in the Delta and under Jackson. Fortunately, its probably been over 70 million years since they have erupted. They were active during the Cretaceous Period when the site of Jackson was a 184 square mile volcanic island. Its core centered under downtown where the coliseum is located. There was also a Cretaceous volcano in Humphreys County known as the Midnight Volcano. Although it gets technical at times, the section of the survey on volcanoes is quite interesting. 

 

There is a good bit of information on fossils in the new survey and not surprisingly several pages focus on Plymouth Bluff. There is good coverage of sites where Cretaceous fossils have been found including some sites such as the Luxapalila at Columbus of which little has been written. Included are several photos of rare dinosaur fossils found south of Highway 82 along the Luxapalila. Among the fossils found along the creek were two raptor bones. As at Plymouth Bluff and Barton Bluff the sediments there contain many shark teeth.  

 

Of course the geologic surveys contain much more than just fossils, earthquakes and volcanoes. However, those topics are what, at least to me, are the most interesting. "The Geology of Mississippi" was written by David Dockery and David Thompson and published by University Press of Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. 

 

Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email your questions about local history to him at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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