Touring Texoma: Ancient Treasures

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When we think of wild animals that roam across rural Texoma these days, we think of deer, wild hogs, and maybe coyotes.

Have you ever stopped to think about what was roaming across the very spot you’re in right now, almost 300 million years ago?

Continuing our tour of Texoma, we’re taking you to the Seymour area, where they uncover many of  the best preserved remains of  pre- dinosaurs that ruled the world 40- million years before dinosaurs.

These are the animals common to Seymour and Baylor County.

They’re native here, and many more of them used to be.

Chris Flis/Museum Director:  “This is the first glimpse of big land walking life on the planet.  Everything scientists really know about the first big land walking life is because of the fossils right here in Baylor County and essentially Seymour Texas.”

34 year old Chris Flis has been digging up fossils just about his entire life.

At this dig site in Baylor County, he and his team find new fossils of prehistoric animals every year.

Some are even completely new to science.

Flis:  “Yeah, this is so fun.  So, I was the first human being to ever see this bone, ever.  In the history of every human being, I was the first one to ever see it.”
         
About 287 to 290 million years ago, Flis says this part of Texas was much closer to the equator.

It  was full of ponds, lakes, and swamps, and was perfect for preserving pre- dinosaurs like the meat- eating Dimetrodon.

Flis:  “This time in the Permian, this is the biggest animal on the planet.  There’s nothing bigger than this.” 

Flis:  “Here is the right face of a huge Dimetrodon, and these are the teeth right here sticking out.  Some very large, large teeth.”

Leigh Cook/Collections Curator:  “Oh, it’s really exciting, especially when you start with one bone, and you’re digging and you find another and another and another all together.  You’re like, oh my gosh, the whole thing’s here.”

Leigh Cook’s also a paleontologist who’s returned with Flis to this site for years, a site that’s changed very little since Charles Sternberg first made famous pre- dinosaur discoveries  here during the last quarter of the 1800’s.

Cook: “I think there’s a responsibility to tell their story.”

One of the great things about digging at this level, in the sort of bowl, is just how well- preserved these fossils really are that can be prepared for research and exhibit just 5- miles away in Seymour at the Whiteside Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Robert Bakker/Houston Museum of Natural Science:  “This is truly, and I’m not exaggerating, a world class lab.”

Renowned paleontologist, Dr. Robert Bakker says there’s no better place than the Texas Red Beds to study paleoecology, using not only the animal’s remains, but also the other animals and plants they ate to learn more about the environment they lived in.

Dr. Bakker:   “Like wildlife ecologists, we want to watch Eryops as it swims through the swamp ambushing a Edaphosaurus.  We want to watch the baby Dimetrodon moving through the forest and keeping out of the way of the adult Dimetrodon.  We want to watch the smaller amphibians as they dig holes to excavate and survive the Permian dry season.”

Flis: “Not too many Seymourias have ever been found really.  The very first one was 1882, Charles Sternberg, and it wasn’t named Seymouria until around 1901-ish.”

Flis says the Seymouria, named for the the town  near the site where its remains were found, is an important link that separates the amphibian group from the reptile group.
        
There were also fresh water sharks here  that lived in bodies of water that dotted the landscape then.

Flis: “This is essentially a venomous spine, very similar to a tail spine on a stingray.”

One of the very first big plant eating animals was the Diadectes.

Flis: “He’s also one of the very first land walking animals that has hearing, which is interesting.  Hearing is a very new thing in the Permian, or for animals in general.”

Along with pre- dinosaurs on display in Baylor County because their fossils are not found better intact anywhere in the world, Chris says this museum would not be complete without dinosaurs that came much later.”

Flis:  “We have reptiles and amphibians where we’re digging.  Eventually, our reptiles are going to branch off, and we’ll start to see the first animals that lead to dinosaurs.  So, without the animals right here in Seymour, all of your favorite dinosaurs would not be here, period.”

Nor would the deer, wild hogs, and coyotes  of today.

Those who visit the museum will see the lizards of today are not much different  from those 300 million years ago, other than size.

Flis: “When you have something that works, it really doesn’t change at all.”

Here, visitors can walk right up to scientists and see how bones older than those of dinosaurs are freed from 285- million years of geological glue before they’re slowly pieced back together.

Flis: “These are parts of her spinal column.  Those are the vertebra that actually comes out the back of the skull there.  So, that’s her neck essentially starting.”

When you walk through the doors of the Whiteside Museum of Natural History, you become a  time traveler, going from today back a million, a 100 million, and even 300 million years of animal history.

That journey in time is not only within those walls.

You can also pay to actually visit the bone beds first dug up around 1875!

Here’s a link for more information:

http://www.whitesidemuseum.org/

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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