Fossil donation includes visit from collector
Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2009 10:53 am
The Messenger 12.03.09
A collection of trilobites recently joined other fossil collections at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The collector, George Stone of Carterville, Ill., delivered to the university a large number of museum-quality trilobites and, while he was on campus, spoke to students in Dr. Michael Gibson’s paleontology class.
The trilobites will be the focus of a hallway display, with some — on loan from UT Martin — going into Discovery Park of America in Union City.
Trilobites, similar to today’s horseshoe crabs, are part of a fossil group of extinct marine arthropods that form the class Trilobita. Trilobites first appeared in the fossil record during the Early Cambrian period (540 million years ago), thrived throughout the lower Paleozoic era before facing extinction when, during the Devonian, all trilobite orders, with the sole exception of Proetida, died out. Trilobites finally disappeared in a mass extinction at the end of the Permian about 250 million years ago.
The trilobites were collected by Stone and his wife, Janet, at a site in Bowling Green, Mo. The fossils were found in Maquoketa Shale. These trilobites belong to the genus Isotelus, several species of which are sometimes found in Tennessee. The Stone Trilobites are special because of their unusually good preservation, even after 500 million years. Most of the specimens are complete, meaning the animals did not go through the typical molting stage to shed their shells to grow larger that usually fragments the exoskeleton. Most likely this is due to rapid burial on the ancient seafloor. The good preservation makes teaching trilobite anatomy and physiology to students much easier.
Stone has donated specimens to a number of institutions in multiple states. Retired as president of the Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois at Springfield) Foundation, he has spent considerable time amassing his collection, beginning in 1983.
He is joined frequently on his quests by his wife, who retired as deputy director of health protection for the state of Illinois. In fact, the couple’s first date was to fossil hunt.
“It gives you a glimpse of the life of the Ordovician time (second period of the Paleozoic Era, from about 505 to 438 million years ago),” Stone said. “These only lived about two million years. They lived in a marine environment that is now above water.”
Mrs. Stone explained the donations to colleges and universities saying, “It is important that they (students) be able to feel them, to touch them, see how they’re put together and how they broke apart and know that they were real.”
“We are honored that he has chosen UT Martin as home to part of this collection,” Gibson said. “Dr. Stone’s collection joins other significant fossil collection donations to the university, including the Witherspoon Collection, Vanderbilt Collection and Hammons Collection.”
For more information, contact Gibson at (731) 881-7435.
Dr. Michael Gibson, fossil collection, George Stone, paleontology class, trilobites, University of Tennessee at Martin