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Press Releases :: 7/2/2001

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Ancient Life of New York: A Billion Years of Earth History

Albany, New York -- 7/2/2001

ALBANY, N.Y. -- One billion years of life above and below the earth's surface and 165 years of leading research into New York State's geologic past are showcased in Ancient Life of New York: A Billion Years of Earth History at the New York State Museum from July 14 to March 31, 2002.

The exhibition includes about 40 significant samples from the Museum's collection of rocks and fossils that piece together what is known through "deep time" -- time measured in the tens of millions of years.

Curated by Museum paleontologists, the series of displays, graphics and hands-on activities with fossils illustrates not only how old old can be but also the massive changes in animal and plant life that take place over geologic time.

The time line puts into perspective the relatively recent existence of dinosaurs just 100 million years ago. Museum scientists also hope the time line demystifies New York's geologic heritage.

"Paleontologists devote their careers to better understanding the epic journey of life through time seen in New York's fossils, but anyone who picks up a fossil can immediately tell something about ancient New York,'' said Chuck Ver Straeten, a Museum paleontologist. "Where do corals live? In warm, tropical seas. And plants? On land. With a little knowledge of fossils and their modern relatives anyone can begin to understand the deep history of New York."

New York has the oldest animal fossils in the eastern United States - dating to a time that takes eight zeros to express. The exhibition includes photos of these, a star-like trail discovered in Washington County. But with Ancient Life of New York, we also see fossils that are even older, stromatolites made by blue-green bacteria living more than a billion years ago in the seas of what are now the Adirondacks.

Also displayed are trilobites, ancient relatives of the horseshoe crab, which lived 450 million years ago in the muddy sea over present-day Utica, Oneida County. Visitors can also learn about the most ancient forest in the world, the 385-year-old forest in Gilboa, Schoharie County. Tree stumps and photos of a microscopic spider from that habitat will be exhibited, along with specimens from the Earth's oldest coral reef, 460 million-years-old, which occurred in the northern Lake Champlain Valley.

In addition, maps show how North America slowly shifted from the southern to northern hemispheres leading to the building of the Appalachian, Adirondack and Taconic ranges.

The exhibit also features several classic dioramas of ancient life and a large photo of the "Gilboa Forest" reconstruction. The dioramas, constructed in the 1940s and 50s, were displayed at the old New York State Museum when it was in the State Education Building.

Just as recorded human history is identified by periods such as the Middle Ages, geologic time is divided into distinct eras. Six separate stations in the exhibition will be devoted to each, from the Precambrian (1.5 billion years ago) to the Mesozoic (about 100 million years ago).

In addition to the Ancient Life exhibition, Laura Flagg, a fourth grader at Fayetteville Elementary School, is displaying her own fossils - the Time Line of Life Collection - in the Museum's Kids Collect display case. Laura began hunting for fossils when she was in first grade. Her collection includes specimens from as far away as France and as close as her grandma's backyard in Delmar, Albany County. The Museum periodically features collections by children.

Origins of some fossil specimens featured in Ancient Life of New York:

  • Saratoga County:
    Fossil stromatolites (formed by bacteria), trilobites (ancient relatives of horseshoe crab, and brachiopods (clam-like animals with two shells), from Lester Park, a New York State Museum geological park west of Saratoga Springs. Dating from the Cambrian Period, c. 495 million years ago.
  • Clinton County:
    Fossil trackway of "mystery animal," which looks like a motorcycle track in sand. Dating from the Cambrian Period, c. 495 million years ago.
    World's oldest fossil coral reefs. Dating from the Ordovician Period, c. 480 million years ago.
  • Washington County:
    Star-like fossil track of an unknown animal that lived in deep ocean. Dating from the Cambrian Period, c. 517 million years ago
  • Oneida County:
    Fossil trilobites (extinct animals related to the horseshoe crab) and cephalopods (related to modern squid, octopus). Dating from the Ordovician Period, c. 450 million years ago.
  • Montgomery County:
    Fossil graptolites (extinct animals distantly related to vertebrates). Dating from the Ordovician Period, c. 450 million years ago.
  • Erie County:
    Fossil eurypterids, sometimes called "sea scorpions" (related to scorpions); exhibition will include the New York State Fossil, Eurypterus remipes. Dating from the Silurian Period, c. 420 million years ago.
    Fossil brachiopods (clam-like animals with two shells), cephalopods (related to modern squid, octopus). Dating from the Devonian Period, c. 385 million years ago.
  • Madison County:
    Fossil clams. Dating from the Devonian Period, c. 385 million years ago.
  • Schoharie County:
    Fossil tree stump from the famous Devonian Gilboa fossil forest.
    Photos of microscopic fossil arthropods (spider, centipede, mite) from the famous Gilboa fossil forest.
    Fossil clams, cephalopods (related to modern squid, octopus).
    Fossil cephalopod "graveyard," with many specimens. All dating from the Devonian Period, c. 385 million years ago
  • Genesee County:
    Fossil corals. All dating from the Devonian Period, c. 385 million years ago.
  • Onondaga County:
    Fossil cephalopod (related to modern squid, octopus). Dating from the Devonian Period, c. 385 million years ago.
  • Tompkins County:
    Fossil sponges and hydrozoan ("soft corals"). Dating from the Devonian Period, c. 380 million years ago.
  • Rockland County:
    Fossil dinosaur tracks, New York's only dinosaur fossils. Dating from the Triassic Period, c. 210 million years ago.
  • Nassau County:
    Fossil leaves, including from an ancient magnolia tree, from the age of dinosaurs. Dating from the Cretaceous Period, c. 90 million years ago.
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