[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Ant Hill Paleontology

I'm trying to find out how many paleontologists use some form of the "ant hill method" when surveying an area for the best place to excavate fossils.

It's long been known that prospectors and archaeologists examine ant hills for minerals and tiny artifacts. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus reported that in India, ants collected gold sand. American Indians often gathered bits of quartz and fossils from ant hills for amulets.

In 1872 in Kansas, William Webb described a paleontologist (most likely Edward Drinker Cope) watching ants bring up, not gold or fossils, but tiny blue glass beads, indicating that an ancient Indian burial lay beneath the ant hill.

The “ant hill method of collecting minute fossils” was perfected in 1886 by John Bell Hatcher, one of the most original and successful bone hunters of the pioneer paleontology era. Noticing that ant hills in the Nebraska-Dakota badlands yielded a “goodly number of mammal teeth,” Hatcher used a baker’s flour sifter to sort piles of ant hill sand. By this method, Hatcher wrote, “I frequently secured from 200 to 300 teeth and jaws from one ant hill.”

Hatcher went even further, he began transporting shovelfuls of sand and ants to other Cretaceous mammal localities that he had discovered in Nebraska and South Dakota. After two years he would return to the each site to harvest the ants’ “efficient service in collecting small fossils.” By 1888, Hatcher was scooping up entire ant mounds on the prairie and packing them into crates addressed to Professor O.C. Marsh at Yale University, where they were sifted by Marsh's students and assistants in the Peabody Museum lab for miniscule fossils of the earliest mammals.

Nowadays, many paleontologists examine ant hills for micro-fossils. I've heard of a Cretaceous mammal deposit in eastern Montana known as the Bug Creek Anthills site, after paleontologists gritted their teeth and braved the stinging red harvester ants to collect an astonishing 130 tiny mammal teeth in just 10 minutes. In 1965, fossil hunters found 5,000 fossil traces of more than 25 species in 100 ant hills in the Badlands of South Dakota. (these examples are from Mayor, Fossil Legends of the First Americans [2005], pp 218-19).

Are there others on the list who have used or know of various ant hill methods of paleontology a la Hatcher?

Thanks in advance, apologies for cross-posting.