Find of a lifetime

Jasper student makes significant fossil find at former Union Chapel mine

By JENNIFER COHRON, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 10/22/17

A Jasper 12-year-old made a significant find at the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site in Union Chapel on Saturday, Oct. 14.

“It was two reproductive cones — megasporophyll and microsporophyll — both of the same type of plant, a scale tree. They’re not incredibly rare, but it’s unusual that you see both on the same plate, especially with the megasporophyll leaves attached,” said Ashley Allen, president of the Alabama Paleontological Society.

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Find of a lifetime

Jasper student makes significant fossil find at former Union Chapel mine

Posted

A Jasper 12-year-old made a significant find at the Steven C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site in Union Chapel on Saturday, Oct. 14.

“It was two reproductive cones — megasporophyll and microsporophyll — both of the same type of plant, a scale tree. They’re not incredibly rare, but it’s unusual that you see both on the same plate, especially with the megasporophyll leaves attached,” said Ashley Allen, president of the Alabama Paleontological Society.

The fossil, which is estimated to be between 310 and 315 million years old, was uncovered by Camden Davis, a homeschool student, while on a field trip with Birmingham-based nonprofit Fresh Air Family.

The group takes two trips each year to the former Union Chapel mine, which was saved from reclamation after it was discovered to be a significant site for fossils.

“He (Allen) told us on Saturday that they have found rare plants and animals that they have never seen before in the fossil record and that it is probably the best coal-age fossil site in the world. People come all over the world to Union Chapel to see that mine,” said Verna Gates, founder and executive director of Fresh Air Family.

In 2010, Cindy Wallace of Walker County found footprints of an Attenosaurus, a large amphibian, while on a Fresh Air Family field trip with her son, and a 9-year-old found a bed of trilobites last year, according to Gates.

The site, which is now under the control of the Land Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, had been bulldozed just prior to the recent field trip, making it easier to find fossils.

Instead of looking on the ground, Camden chose to spend over an hour chiseling out the layers on a large rock.

“Once I got to the bottom, I flipped it over, and that’s what I found. It was basically the entire reproduction cycle of an ancient tree, a scale tree. When the tree died, it preserved perfectly,” Camden said.

Allen, who was present for the discovery, told Camden and his mom, Shannon, that it was a museum-worthy piece. While he worked to clean the fossil, Camden continued to dig.

“He (Allen) was washing it up and had another guy help chisel it while I kept taking out pieces of the bark, roots and other parts of the reproductive cycle,” Camden said.

Each plate is approximately the size of a coffee table, according to Allen, and could join other fossils from the site at the McWane Center in Birmingham.

Fossils of scientific significance found in Union Chapel have been provided to the Smithsonian, the Alabama Museum of Natural History and New Mexico Museum of Natural History.

After the excitement of last week’s field trip, Camden is well on his way to becoming a rock hound.

“He already enjoyed fossils, but I think this made him want to study them even more,” Shannon Davis said.