Outline of Historical Geology by Ellin Beltz
Part I
Introduction, Environment, Stratigraphy
Part II
You are Here
Taxonomy and Taphonomy
Part III
Rock Cycle
Part IV
Plate Tectonics
Part V
A brief history of Earth
2006 by Ellin Beltz

Historical Geology - Part II - Hooked on Fossils

Taxonomic Classification of Life on Earth

The hierarchy of taxonomic groups is
Kingdom : Phylum : Class : Order : Family : Genus : Species

Many biologists remember this by the sentence "King Philip cries out for great soup!"

Older classification system divided all things into five kingdoms:

  1. Protista -- yellow-green and golden-brown algae and "protozoans"
  2. Monera -- asexual unicellular microorganisms with no cell nucleus or other organelles
  3. Fungi
  4. Plants and
  5. Animals.

I prefer an equally arbitrary system which proposes that all life be divided into three "domains" named

From a historical geology perspective, we realize that not all groups are proportionally represented in the fossil record, so only some groups of living organisms are regularly used in historical geology. If you look up living organisms in biology books, you will find far more groups than are discussed in your text book.

The text admirably covers evolutionary concepts, paleogeography and other important topics, yet slights Kingdom Plantae and Domains Eubacteria and Archaebacteria. Visit the Virtual Museum "Bacteria Fossil Record" page for more information. Geochemists are probably the furthest along in their understanding of the influence of these two groups on earth. Some of these organisms may have contributed to the Earth's oxygen atmosphere. Cutting-edge work is being done in this area with applications to metals extraction and environmental remediation. Odd life forms like viruses are hardly even considered in the fossil record -- although we assume that they were equally common all the way back in time.

Abbreviated Classification of Life

  1. Kingdom Plantae -- Botany Links
    If anything, plant taxonomy is more complicated than animal taxonomy. Here are just the highlights.
    • Cyanophyta -- blue-green algae
    • Chlorophyta -- green algae
    • Phaeophyta -- brown algae
    • Rhodophyta -- red algae
    • Bryophyta - liverworts, hornworts and mosses
    • Psilophyta - psilophytes
    • Lycopodophyta -- club mosses
    • Arthrophyta -- horsetails (Sphenopsida)
    • Pterophyta -- ferns (Filicineae)
    • Pteridospermophyta -- seed ferns
    • Spermatophyta -- seed bearers
      • Gymnosperms
        • Cycadophyta -- cycads
        • Ginkophyta -- ginkos
        • Coniferphyta -- conifers
      • Angiosperms - (Anthophyta) flowering plants
        • Class Dicotyledonae -- dicots
        • Class Monoctoyledonae -- monocots

  2. Kingdom Animalia -- Fossil animal sites.
    • Phylum Protista -- single or groups of cells, forams, radiolarians, diatoms, coccolithophores and fusulinids
    • Phylum Porifera -- sponges
    • Phylum Archaeocyatha -- ancient reef builders, presumed extinct
    • Phylum Cnidaria -- corals (formerly Coelenterata), hydroids, sea anemones (Anthozoa) & jellyfish
    • Worms
      • Platyhelminthes -- flat worms
      • Nemertina -- ribbon worms
      • Trochelminthes -- rotifers and others
      • Annelida -- segmented worms
    • Phylum Brachiopoda -- brachiopods and lamp shells
    • Phylum Bryozoa -- moss animals
    • Phylum Echinodermata -- five-fold symmetry, starfish, brittle stars, sanddollars, echinoids, sea lilies, crinoids, blastoids, cystoids, sea cucumbers
    • Phylum Mollusca
      • Pelecypods - clams and oysters
      • Gastropods - snails, slugs
      • Scaphopods -- marine tube mollusks
      • Cephalopods - squid, octopus, nautiloids and ammonoids
    • Phylum Annelida - segmented worms and Scolecondonts
    • Phylum Arthropoda - segmented legs including insects, lobsters, crabs, trilobites, eurypterids
      • Trilobita -- trilobites
      • Crustacea -- crabs, lobsters, shrimp, crayfish, barnacles,
      • Arachnida -- spiders, mites, ticks, horseshoe "crab," eurypterids
      • Insecta -- insects and beetles
    • Phylum Problematica - Tullimonstrum, etc.
    • Phylum Hemichordata - acorn worms (graptolites)
    • Phylum Chordata - notochords and articulated backbones
      • Subphylum Unorchordata - tunicates and sea squirts
      • Subphylum Cephalochordates - amphioxus
      • Subphylum Vertebrata
        • Agnatha - hagfishes and lampreys
        • Placodermi -- extinct, fishlike with jaws
        • Chondrichthyes -- sharks, skates, rays, chimaeras and others with cartilage skeletons
        • Osteichthyes -- true bony fishes
          • Chondrosteans -- early bony fishes like sturgeons
          • Teleosts -- modern bony fishes
        • Amphibians - amphiuma, sirens, salamanders, frogs - Amphibian links.
        • Reptiles - lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodiles
        • Dinosaurs - ornithischia and saurischia -- Dinosaur links.
        • Birds
        • Mammals -- 33 orders/15 extinct (this is abbreviated)
          • Monotremes -- egg laying mammals -- duck-billed platypus
          • Multituberculates -- extinct in Eocene
          • Pantotheres -- shrew-like
          • Marsupials -- young suckle in pouch -- kangaroo, opossums
          • Placentals
            • Dermoptera -- bats
            • Primates -- lemurs, apes, monkeys, humans
            • Edentates -- ground sloths, armadillos, anteaters
            • Lagomorphs and rodents -- rabbits, rats, mice
            • Cetaceans -- whales, dolphins, porpoises
            • Carnivores -- dogs, cats, raccoons, weasels, civets, hyenas, bears
            • Ungulates -- cows, mammoths, mastodons, elephants, hippopotamuses, deer, giraffes, sheep, antelopes, sea cows, uintatheres (extinct)

Memorize, memorize, memorize!

Earthly Lifestyles


Play "match the lifestyle to the organism". Which pertain to plants, which to animals and within animals, be specific.

How to Become a Fossil - the process of Taphonomy

How different things are preserved
Source Material Soft Parts Dessicated Carbonized Original Hard Parts Re-
Replaced Per-
Cast & Molds Stein
Tracks, Trails, Imprints
Microorganisms - - - - yesyesyes - - -
Leavessome - yes - - Mazon - MazonMazon -
Wood - - yessome - yesyes some - -
Bones - - - somesomeyesyessome - -
Muscles, Tissues & Skin somesomesome - - - - - - -
Soft-Bodied Organisms MazonsomeBurgess - - - - some - some
Calcareous Shells - - - yes yesyesMazonyes some -
Arthropod Carapaces - - - yes - yes - some - -
Phosphatic Skeletal Materials - - - yes someyessomesome - -
Table idea and some data from "Interpreting Earth History: A manual in historical geology" by Morris S. Petersen and J. Keith Rigby, 1999, McGraw-Hill.

Agents of destruction and transport

Areas of exceptional preservation include

Use the casting kit and casting cement, create carbonate fossil casts from "Skulduggery" or similar latex molds. Use casting cement, real fossils or trace fossils, and clear cello-wrap to create your own casts and molds. Walk through the sand tray and analyse your own trace fossils. Use plastic dinosaurs to create trackways in the sand tray. Describe the formation of siderite and how Mazon concretions may have formed.

Exercise 2:
Enter any more specific examples of taphonomic preservation in the table during the semester. Where did we see which type of preservation? And/or which type of preservation is found in famous fossil localities? Examples given include some from Mazon Creek and one from the Burgess Shale.

This section included the major field trip to downstate and western Illinois.

Outline of Historical Geology by Ellin Beltz
Part I
Introduction, Environment, Stratigraphy
Part II
You are Here
Taxonomy and Taphonomy
Part III
Rock Cycle
Part IV
Plate Tectonics
Part V
A brief history of Earth
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2008 by Ellin Beltz -- January 10, 2008