Quite likely they were happily camped out in pre-sprawl, Ice Age Rhode Island, blissfully unaware of the mass extinction to come – a condition they shared with short-faced bears, dire wolves, stag-moose, giant beaver and saber-toothed cats.
As Gary Haynes writes in his “American megafaunal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene”:
The great vanishing act took place in California and Rhode Island and Texas, in the center of Brazil and along the Pacific coast of Chile, in the inland steppes and pampas and plains of both Americas, in the cold southern cone of Argentina, in the lowlands and plains, mountains and foothills, everywhere in both continents and at nearly the same time. It’s a mystery we cannot solve – a true cold case.
Not one we’re likely to solve today, but in the universe that is Rhode Island, there’s a bigger mystery afoot. Why don’t we have a state fossil? Most every other state does, including four of our New England neighbors: Vermont (white whale); Massachusetts (dinosaur tracks – theropod footprints); Connecticut (dinosaur tracks – Eubrontes giganteus); and Maine (Devonian plant).
Rhody, along with both Carolinas, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Tennessee and Hawaii, is just a blank space on the official state fossils list.
Marilyn Massaro, curator of collections at the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium at Roger Williams Park in Providence, which houses thousands of state fossils, thinks it’s high time that changed.
“The official state fossil should come from one the plant families of the Carboniferous period,” she said in a phone conversation this morning. “That really is sort of the Rhode Island fossil. In fact, I can’t believe that Calamites aren’t already the state fossil.”
The Carboniferous period, also known as the coal age, occurred between 354 million to 290 million years ago. Calamites were medium-sized trees that grew up to 100 feet or more, located in the understories of coal swamps. Their only living relatives are horsetails. Their fossils are still evident in parts of Rhode Island.
Any other suggestions? What should be the state fossil of Rhode Island? (Note: Assorted media personalities, weather forecasters and ex-governors are not eligible.)